The Seven Ways to Bliss

By David Reigle on June 12, 2024 at 6:15 pm

Verse 4 of the first stanza from the “Book of Dzyan” given in H. P. Blavatsky’s The Secret Doctrine begins by saying “the seven ways to bliss were not.” This verse, as found at the beginning of The Secret Doctrine, then as commented on in the body of The Secret Doctrine, then as found in the first draft Secret Doctrine Wurzburg Manuscript, is:

4. The seven ways to bliss were not. The great causes of misery were not, for there was no one to produce and get ensnared by them.

4. The seven ways to bliss (Moksha or Nirvana) were not. The great causes of misery (Nidana and Maya) were not, for there was no one to produce and get ensnared by them.

4. The seven Ways to Bliss (Moksha, or Nirvana) — were not. The great causes of Misery (Nidana and Maya) — were not, for there was no one to produce and get ensnared by them.

Blavatsky in her commentary does not say what the seven ways to bliss are (vol. 1, pp. 38-39). When she was later asked what are the seven ways to bliss, she replied: “They are certain faculties of which the student will know more when he goes deeper into occultism.” (Transactions of the Blavatsky Lodge, p. 25). In the unedited transcript of her reply at the Blavatsky Lodge, she said “they are practically faculties . . .” In reply to the next question (omitted in the edited book), “Then the seven ways are not actually mentioned?” she said, “No, they are not mentioned in The Secret Doctrine, are they? They are not, I should say not.” (Secret Doctrine Commentaries, p. 46; or Secret Doctrine Dialogues, p. 46). Her concluding “I should say not” suggests that she did not intend to give them.

Indeed, in her article, “The Mystery of Buddha,” she said about the Buddha revealing a part of the secret teachings that he should not have: “In His anxiety to make away with the false Gods, He revealed in the ‘Seven Paths to Nirvana’ some of the mysteries of the Seven Lights of the Arupa (formless) World. A little of the truth is often worse than no truth at all.” (H. P. Blavatsky Collected Writings, vol. 14, p. 388). She goes on to speak of “His new doctrine, which represented the outward dead body of the Esoteric Teaching without its vivifying Soul, . . . “

The seven lights of the arūpa world are referred to in verse 6 of stanza 5 of the “Book of Dzyan”: “Thus were formed the Arupa and the Rupa (the Formless World and the World of Forms): from one light seven lights; from each of the seven, seven times seven lights.” In her commentary on this, she wrote (vol. 1, p. 133): “To the highest [world], we are taught, belong the seven orders of the purely divine Spirits; to the six lower ones belong hierarchies that can occasionally be seen and heard by men, and who do communicate with their progeny of the Earth; which progeny is indissolubly linked with them, each principle in man having its direct source in the nature of those great Beings, who furnish us with the respective invisible elements in us.” 

Elsewhere Blavatsky made reference to the highest class of nirvāṇis, “the Nirvāṇīs ‘without remains’—the pure Arūpa, the formless Breaths” (Blavatsky Collected Writings, vol. 14, p. 436). Similarly, she wrote in her commentary on verse 4 of stanza 5 of the “Book of Dzyan” (vol. 1, p. 120): “The ‘Divine World’—the countless Lights lit at the primeval Light—the Buddhis, or formless divine Souls, of the last Arupa (formless) world; . . .” This allows us to think that the seven ways to bliss may pertain to faculties of the seven different classes or orders of spiritual beings that each person is connected with by way of their inner principles. But we do not know.

Blavatsky always tried to annotate the stanzas from the “Book of Dzyan” with reference to known books, to help give them credibility by showing exoterically available echoes of the hitherto secret teachings. After glossing “bliss” in “the seven ways to bliss” by giving “Moksha or Nirvana” in parentheses, she further gives other forms of the word Nirvana in a footnote: “Nippang in China; Neibban in Burmah; . . .” (vol. 1, p. 38). The “Neibban in Burmah” leads us to a book that she quoted elsewhere, The Life or Legend of Gaudama: The Buddha of the Burmese, by P. Bigandet. We know that she used the 1880 third edition in two volumes rather than the 1858 first edition or the 1866 second edition in one volume, because she quotes the book by page number in a couple places (Blavatsky Collected Writings, vol. 4, p. 7, and vol. 5, p. 249 fn.), and these page numbers match the third edition (the pagination was unchanged for the 1911-1912 fourth edition).

This book has a section titled, “The Seven Ways to Neibban,” vol. 2, pp. 189-239 (1st ed., pp. 285-316; 2nd ed., pp. 431-481). Bigandet was a missionary rather than an orientalist, so he was not concerned to provide references to his sources. The main part of his book is a translation of a Burmese translation made in 1773 of an obscure book written in Pali on the life of the Buddha. The author of the Burmese translation states the name of his book at the end, transcribed phonetically by Bigandet as Malla-linkara-wouttoo (vol. 2, p. 151). From this, we may deduce that the title is Mālālaṅkāra-vatthu. But the “The Seven Ways to Neibban” is an abridged translation of a different book, added by Bigandet to supplement the account of the life of the Buddha with an account of the teachings of the Buddha. Bigandet tells us only that it “was composed at first in the Siamese language at Bangkok, and has been subsequently translated into Burmese” (vol. 2, p.191).

In any case, the teachings of “The Seven Ways to Neibban” can be traced, since the Siamese and Burmese Buddhist sources are all derived from the Pali Buddhist sources. The most famous and most widely read Pali book on Buddhism is the Visuddhi-magga, “The Path of Purification.” That book is largely structured around seven purifications that are listed in the Ratha-vinīta-sutta, “The Relay Chariots,” sutta no. 24 of the Majjhima-nikāya. These seven purifications were helpfully summarized by Bhikkhu Ñāṇamoli and Bhikkhu Bodhi in a note to their complete translation of the Majjhima-nikāya as The Middle Length Discourses of the Buddha (note 288, pp. 1213-1214, referring to p. 242, paragraph 9):

“In brief, “purification of virtue” (sīlavisuddhi) is the unbroken adherence to the moral precepts one has undertaken, explained by Vsm [Visuddhi-magga] with reference to the moral training of a bhikkhu as the “fourfold purification of virtue.” “Purification of mind” (cittavisuddhi) is the overcoming of the five hindrances through the attainment of access concentration and the jhānas. “Purification of view” (diṭṭhivisuddhi) is the understanding that defines the nature of the five aggregates constituting a living being. “Purification by overcoming doubt” (kankhāvitaraṇavisuddhi) is the understanding of conditionality. “Purification by knowledge and vision of what is the path and what is not the path” (maggāmaggañāṇadassanavisuddhi) is the correct discrimination between the false path of the ecstatic, exhilarating experiences and the true path of insight into impermanence, suffering, and not self. “Purification by knowledge and vision of the way” (paṭipadāñāṇadassanavisuddhi) comprises the ascending series of insight knowledges up to the supramundane paths. And “purification by knowledge and vision” (ñāṇadassanavisuddhi) is the supramundane paths.”

These seven purifications can be delineated as:

1. sīla-visuddhi, “purification of virtue,”

2. citta-visuddhi, “purification of mind,”

3. diṭṭhi-visuddhi, “purification of view,”

4. kaṅkhāvitaraṇa-visuddhi, “purification by overcoming doubt,”

5. maggāmagga-ñāṇa-dassana-visuddhi, “purification by knowledge and vision of what is the path and what is not the path,”

6. paṭipadā-ñāṇa-dassana-visuddhi, “purification by knowledge and vision of the way,”

7. ñāṇa-dassana-visuddhi, “purification by knowledge and vision.”

The seven distinct parts into which the author of “The Seven Ways to Neibban” divided his book were condensed into six articles in the abridged translation by Bigandet (see p. 191). These six articles are titled by Bigandet as:

1. Of the Precepts

2. Of Meditation and its various Degrees

3. Of the Nature of Beings

4. Of the Cause of the Form and of the Name, or of Master and Spirit

5. Of the True Meggas or Ways to Perfection

6. Of the Progress in Perfect Science

The seven purifications, then, can be seen to be “The Seven Ways to Neibban” of Bigandet’s abridged translation. “The Seven Ways to Neibban” are directly based on the teachings of the Visuddhi-magga. The four arūpa worlds are indeed among the many subjects taught in the Visuddhi-magga, being the subject of its short chapter ten, “The Immaterial States,” pp. 321-336 of Bhikkhu Ñāṇamoli’s translation. Thus they are also found in “The Seven Ways to Neibban,” pp. 208-212. However, there is no mention of lights, whether seven or otherwise. As we recall, Blavatsky’s statement was that “He revealed in the ‘Seven Paths to Nirvana’ some of the mysteries of the Seven Lights of the Arupa (formless) World.” We must therefore wonder if the teaching of the mere existence of the fourfold arūpa world is where the Buddha is alleged to have revealed more than he should have, only suggesting some of the mysteries of the seven lights of that world.

When Blavatsky was instructed to bring out hitherto secret teachings in the form of stanzas from the “Book of Dzyan,” the seven lights of the arūpa world were openly referred to, as were the seven times seven lights formed from each of these seven. The seven orders of purely divine spirits belonging to the arūpa world were also openly referred to, as were the many classes or orders of spiritual beings belonging to the rūpa worlds that each person is connected with. But the seven ways to bliss were not delineated. Other than the hint that “They are certain faculties of which the student will know more when he goes deeper into occultism,” we are left on our own to determine what these seven ways are. We have in the known Buddhist texts a listing of the seven ways to nirvāṇa as the seven purifications. But if we regard the seven ways to bliss as “practically faculties” or “certain faculties,” then the seven purifications do not seem to be the seven ways to bliss referred to in the verse from the “Book of Dzyan.”

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Vajrasattva mantra

By David Reigle on April 12, 2024 at 11:48 pm

The Book of Dzyan is said to be “the first volume of the Commentaries upon the seven secret folios of Kiu-te, and a Glossary of the public works of the same name” (Blavatsky Collected Writings, vol. 14, p. 422). As is now known, the Books of Kiu-te (rgyud sde) are the Tibetan Buddhist tantras. A standard part of their practice is the Vajrasattva mantra. I have now completed a long-promised article on “The Vajrasattva Mantra: Sanskrit Edition and English Translation.” It is 38 pages. Only the beginning part of it is likely to be of interest to most readers. The rest provides extensive sources.


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Anthropogenesis in the Popol Vuh

By David Reigle on January 14, 2024 at 3:55 am

The Popol Vuh (or Popol Wuj) is the sacred book of the Maya. It gives their creation story, the stories of their gods and heroes, and a history of Maya kings. It includes the creation of human beings. This took three attempts, the first two of which ended in failure. Max Müller, in his 1862 review article on the Popol Vuh, misunderstood the book as describing four creations of humanity. These four were then cited in H. P. Blavatsky’s 1888 book, The Secret Doctrine, associating them with the four root-races taught there from the “Book of Dzyan.” These associations, made on an erroneous basis, are therefore also erroneous.

The first attempt at the creation of a human being is described only briefly in the Popul Vuh. This human being was made of earth and mud. It did not hold together well. It could not turn its head to look around. It spoke, but without sense. It would quickly dissolve in water. It could not walk. It could not multiply. So the disappointed creator gods destroyed it. (Sources for the first attempt: Recinos 1950, p. 86; Edmonson 1971, p. 19; Tedlock 1985, pp. 79-80; Tedlock 1996, pp. 68-69; Christenson 2003, pp. 78-79; Christenson 2004, pp. 26-27.) Tedlock notes that “the only creature made of mud is also the only one made in the singular” (1985, p. 257; 1996, p. 231).

The second attempt at the creation of human beings, and their subsequent destruction, is described at length in the Popol Vuh. They were made of carved wood, and were referred to as “poy,” variously translated as figures (Recinos), dolls (Edmonson), manikins (Tedlock), effigies (Christenson). They looked like people and they talked like people. They existed and they multiplied. They became numerous, the first to people the earth. But they had nothing in their hearts and they had no minds. They did not remember with thanks the gods who had created them. So they were destroyed, first by a flood sent by the great god “Heart of Heaven” (Recinos, Edmonson), or “Heart of Sky” (Tedlock, Christenson), their father.

It is here that Max Müller went astray, thinking that this closed the second attempt at creation. The text here adds that the body of man was made of tzité and the body of woman was made of reed or its marrow, before continuing with a lengthy description of other ways in which the figure/doll/manikin/effigy people made of carved wood were destroyed. Müller referred to tzité as a tree, but not as wood. So he erroneously took this as the third attempt at the creation of people (p. 335). The text continues, and at the end of its detailed descriptions of other ways in which these people were destroyed, it makes clear that these are the figure/doll/manikin/effigy people made of wood.

The text, when describing the planning of the second attempt at creation by the gods, refers to the people about to be created as “the formed people, the shaped people, the doll people, the made up people” (Edmonson, p. 21), and says that they are to be made of wood (Edmonson, p. 23). Then after all the descriptions of all the ways in which they were destroyed, we read “And thus was the destruction of the formed people, the shaped people” (Edmonson, p. 30). At the very end of this account, a few lines later, we read: “And it is said that the remainder are the monkeys that are in the forests today. That must be the remainder because their bodies were only fixed of wood by Former and Shaper. So the fact that the monkeys look like people is a sign of one generation of formed people, of shaped people, only puppets [poy, previously translated by him as dolls], and just carved of wood.” (Edmonson, pp. 30-31). This leaves no doubt that the end of the second attempt at creation is here being described, not the end of an erroneously postulated third attempt.

(Sources for the second attempt: Recinos 1950, pp. 89-93; Edmonson 1971, pp. 24-31; Tedlock 1985, pp. 83-86; Tedlock 1996, pp. 70-73; Christenson 2003, pp. 83-90; Christenson 2004, pp. 32-37.)

The third attempt at the creation of human beings comes much later in the Popul Vuh. Four men were created from ground yellow corn and white corn. They had no mother or father. They were not even begotten by the creator gods, but merely by a miracle (Recinos), power (Edmonson), sacrifice (Tedlock), miraculous power (Christenson), by means of incantation (Recinos), magic (Edmonson), genius (Tedlock), spirit essence (Christenson). They could talk, and they could walk. At first their sight was unlimited. They could see hidden things, and they could see at any distance. Aware of the unlimited knowledge that their unlimited sight gave them, they gave thanks to the creator gods. But then the gods wondered if it was right that the sight and knowledge of these four men equaled the sight and knowledge of the gods. So the great god Heart of Heaven/Heart of Sky limited their sight to things that were close, and with this their unlimited knowledge was also lost. They were then given wives, and these four pairs became the ancestors of the Maya people.

(Sources for the third attempt: Recinos 1950, pp. 165-170; Edmonson 1971, pp. 145-154; Tedlock 1985, pp. 163-167; Tedlock 1996, pp. 145-149; Christenson 2003, pp. 192-202; Christenson 2004, pp. 152-162.)

Christenson notes at the beginning of this account of the third attempt at the creation of human beings, the first successful one (2003, p. 192, fn. 452): “The Aztecs of Precolumbian Central Mexico believed that the earth had passed through five separate creations, each with the intent of forming beings capable of human expression. Only the fifth and final attempt was successful. . . . The Popol Vuh is consistent with this tradition in describing five separate creation attempts—the mountains and rivers, the animals and birds, the mud person, the wooden effigies, and now humankind.”

There are also other ways to count or correlate these creation attempts. Ralph Girard, in the 1979 English translation of his 1948 Spanish book, Esotericism of the Popul Vuh, classifies them into four ages of the world (p. 20): “The classification in the Popol Vuh embraces four cultural horizons, three prehistoric and one historic. They correspond to the four Ages or Suns of Toltec mythology, . . .” These from the Popul Vuh are, using Christenson’s terms for ease of comparison: the First Age is that of the creation of the animals and birds; the Second Age is that of the mud person; the Third Age is that of the wooden effigies; the Fourth Age is that of humankind.

. . . . . . .

References to the Popol Vuh in The Secret Doctrine,
compared with Max Müller’s review article on the Popol Vuh

S.D. vol. 1, p. 345: “In the Mexican Popol-Vuh, man is created out of mud or clay (terre glaise), taken from under the water.”

Max Müller, p. 334: “Then follows the creation of man. His flesh was made of earth (terre glaise). . . . He was soon consumed again in the water.”

This reference, both in Max Müller’s review article and in The Secret Doctrine, is misleading. It was not the creation of man, but only the first attempt, a failure; and the man made of earth and mud was then destroyed by the creator gods. Moreover, as noted by Tedlock, this description is in the singular in the Popol Vuh. So it seems that only one person was created. In the successful creation of people, later, they were made of ground corn.

S.D. vol. 2, p. 160: “The primitive ancestor, in Brasseur de Bourbourg’s “Popul-Vuh,” who — in the Mexican legends — could act and live with equal ease under ground and water as upon the Earth, answers only to the Second and early Third Races in our texts.”

This apparently refers to the first attempt at the creation of a human being in the Popol Vuh. The Popol Vuh says only that he was made of earth and mud. Neither Müller nor the Popol Vuh say anything about him being able to “act and live with equal ease under ground and water as upon the Earth.” On the contrary, the Popol Vuh says that this person would quickly dissolve in water.

S.D. vol. 2, p. 55 footnote.: “Remember . . . the Popol-Vuh accounts of the first human race, which could walk, fly and see objects, however distant.”

S.D. vol. 2, p. 96: “Again, in the ancient Quiché Manuscript, the Popol Vuh — published by the late Abbé Brasseur de Bourbourg — the first men are described as a race “whose sight was unlimited, and who knew all things at once” : thus showing the divine knowledge of Gods, not mortals.”

S.D. vol. 2, p. 221: “. . . and others who . . . were born with a sight, which embraced all living things, and was independent of both distance and material obstacle. In short, they were the Fourth Race of men mentioned in the Popol-Vuh, whose sight was unlimited, and who knew all things at once.”

Max Müller, writing about what he describes as the fourth attempt at the creation of man, p. 337: “They could reason and speak, their sight was unlimited, and they knew all things at once.”

The first of these three quotations from The Secret Doctrine erroneously adds that “the first human race” could fly. Neither Müller’s review article nor the Popol Vuh itself say this. The second quotation similarly refers to them as “the first men.” In the Popol Vuh the first successful creation of people, resulting from the third attempt, had unlimited sight and knowledge only at first before it was taken away. The third quotation from The Secret Doctrine refers to them not as “the first human race” but as “the Fourth Race of men mentioned in the Popol-Vuh.” This quotation is immediately followed by “In other words, they were the Lemuro-Atlanteans.” This shows that Blavatsky in fact regarded them as early fourth root-race men rather than first root-race men. In The Secret Doctrine, the Lemurians are held to be third root-race, and the Atlanteans are held to be fourth root-race. The erroneous idea that the Popol Vuh teaches a fourth race of men comes from a misunderstanding by Müller, then erroneously equated with the fourth root-race by Blavatsky.

S.D. vol. 2, p. 97: “The Norse Ask, the Hesiodic Ash-tree, whence issued the men of the generation of bronze, the Third Root-Race, and the Tzite tree of the Popol-Vuh, out of which the Mexican third race of men was created, are all one.*

* See Max Müller’s review of the Popol-Vuh.

Max Müller, p. 335: “Then follows a third creation, man being made of a tree called tzité, woman of the marrow of a reed called sibac.”

Müller misunderstood the Popol Vuh to teach a third creation in which man is made of a tzité tree, when in fact it was still describing the second attempt at creation, of people made of carved wood. Blavatsky then erroneously took this and equated it with the third root-race. Müller, in regarding this as a third creation, missed the fact that the Popol Vuh was describing people-like figures made of wood. So he referred to “a tree called tzité” rather than wood of the tzité tree. This led Blavatsky to erroneously equate the tzité tree with “the Norse Ask, the Hesiodic Ash-tree,” and to erroneously equate this tzité tree with the source “whence issued the men of the generation of bronze, the Third Root-Race.”

S.D. vol. 2, p. 181 footnote.: “In “Hesiod,” Zeus creates his third race of men out of ash-trees. In the “Popol Vuh” the Third Race of men is created out of the tree Tzita and the marrow of the reed called Sibac. . . .

Max Müller, p. 335: “Then follows a third creation, man being made of a tree called tzité, woman of the marrow of a reed called sibac.”

Müller’s erroneous postulation of a third creation in which man is made of a tzité tree has already been noted, as has Blavatsky’s taking this and equating it with the third root-race, and Blavatsky’s equating the tzité tree with the ash-tree as the source of the third race of men. Now to Müller’s phrase, “woman of the marrow of a reed called sibac.” Brasseur de Bourbourg spells the word as zibak (pp. 26-27). Why it was changed to sibac in Müller’s review article is unknown. Brasseur de Bourbourg, who leaves it untranslated, has a footnote about it (p. 26): “Zibak, c’est la moelle d’un petit jonc dont les indigènes font leurs nattes, dit un vocabulaire manuscrit; un autre ajoute que c’est le sassafras.” Malpas translated this as: “Zibak: the pith of a little rush or reed of which the natives make their mats, says a MS. vocabulary. Others say it is sassafras” (The Theosophical Path, vol. 37.3, 1930, p. 211). There is a question of whether this word refers to the reed itself or to its pith. This has some significance for Blavatsky’s statement given in the rest of her footnote, quoted below, about this word referring to an egg. For as noted by Guthrie regarding “the pith of one kind of reeds” (The Word, vol. 2, 1905, p. 80): “Now it is evident that the root-signification is here the same as that of an egg, the inside being the most valuable part.”

The word zibak is taken as the reed itself by Recinos, Edmonson, and Christenson; and is taken as its pith by Tedlock, and by the manuscript vocabulary referred to by Brasseur de Bourbourg. The various translators have notes about this word. They are given below, preceded by the sentence to which they refer.

Recinos 1950, p. 90: “Of tzité, the flesh of man was made, but when woman was fashioned by the Creator and Maker, her flesh was made of rushes.”

footnote 1, p. 90: “The Quiché name zibaque is commonly used in Guatemala to designate this plant of the Typhaceae family, which is much used in making the mats called petates tules in that country. Basseta says it is the part of a reed with which mats are made.”

Edmonson 1971, p. 26:

“Of tz’ite was the body of the man
When he was carved
By Former
And Shaper.
Woman reed was the body of the woman
Who was carved
By Former
And Shaper.”

footnote 681, p. 26: “Zibak is the cattail or bulrush (Typha angustifolia) used for matting. Real men were later made of white and yellow corn; see line 4815 ff.”

Tedlock 1985, p. 84: “The man’s body was carved from the wood of the coral tree by the Maker, Modeler. And as for the woman, the Maker, Modeler needed the pith of reeds for the woman’s body.”

backnote, p. 260: “the pith of reeds: This is zibac; B. [Domingo de Basseta] gives ziba3 as “the pith or insides of a small reed.””

Tedlock 1996, p. 71: “The man’s body was carved from the wood of the coral tree by the Maker, Modeler. And as for the woman, the Maker, Modeler needed the hearts of bulrushes for the woman’s body.”

backnote, p. 235: “hearts of bulrushes: This is sib’aq [zibac], referring to the “heart” (FV, FX) or “pith or insides” (DB) of rushes of the kinds whose leaves are woven into mats (FV). This would be the white and fleshy (as opposed to green and fibrous) parts of rushes (including cattails), which can be found inside the lower parts of stalks.”

Christenson 2003, p. 85: “The body of man had been carved of tz’ite wood by the Framer and the Shaper. The body of woman consisted of reeds according to the desire of the Framer and the Shaper.”

footnote 125, p. 86: “This is the type of reed commonly used for weaving mats in Guatemala (Typha angustifolia).”

Christenson 2004, p. 33:

Tz’ite his body the man
When he was carved
By Framer,
Reeds therefore
Her body
Desired to enter by Framer

S.D. vol. 2, p. 181 footnote, continued: “In the “Popol Vuh” the Third Race of men is created out of the tree Tzita and the marrow of the reed called Sibac. But Sibac means “egg” in the mystery language of the Artufas (or Initiation caves). In a report sent in 1812 to the Cortes by Don Baptista Pino it is said : “All the Pueblos have their Artufas — so the natives call subterranean rooms with only a single door where they (secretly) assemble. . . . . These are impenetrable temples . . . . and the doors are always closed to the Spaniards. . . . . They adore the Sun and Moon . . . . fire and the great SNAKE (the creative power), whose eggs are called Sibac.””

This footnote goes with this sentence: “In the Secret Doctrine, the first Nagas — beings wiser than Serpents — are the “Sons of Will and Yoga,” born before the complete separation of the sexes, “matured in the man-bearing eggs† produced by the power (Kriyasakti) of the holy sages” of the early Third Race.” The Secret Doctrine refers to the third root-race as being “egg-born.” This is the significance of taking the word sibac to mean “egg.” Leaving aside the fact that the Popol Vuh is not here referring to a third creation of human beings, but only to the second, there is yet another difficulty. The phrase from the last sentence of the quotation from Don Baptista Pino, “whose eggs are called Sibac,” cannot be found in his report.

Blavatsky first quoted this material from Don Baptista Pino in Isis Unveiled, vol. 1, p. 557. The phrase in question is not found in the quotation as given there. Her source is there given as “Catholic World, N.Y., January, 1877: Article Nagualism, Voodooism, etc.” This article actually opens the April 1877 issue (vol. 25), and her quotation is from p. 7. The phrase in question is not found there. But, we may wonder, could it have been in a part that was not quoted in The Catholic World article?

Their quotation is referenced to “Noticias, pp. 15, 16.” This is a book written in Spanish, whose full title is: Noticias Historicas y Estadisticas de la Antigua Provincia del Nuevo-México, presentadas por su diputado en cortes D. Pedro Bautista Pino, en Cadiz el Año de 1812. Adicionadas por el Lic. D. Antonio Barreiro en 1839; y ultimamente anotadas por el Lic. Don José Agustin de Escudero, published in Mexico in 1849. A complete English translation of this book was made by H. Bailey Carroll and J. Villasana Haggard and published in Albuquerque in 1942 as: Three New Mexico Chronicles: The Exposición of Don Pedro Bautista Pino 1812; the Ojeada of Lic. Antonio Barreiro 1832; and the additions by Don José Agustín de Escudero, 1849. The part that was quoted in The Catholic World, and from there by Blavatsky, first in Isis Unveiled and then in The Secret Doctrine, is found on p. 29. The phrase in question is not found there. But, we may wonder, could it have been missed in the English translation?

This part is actually by Antonio Barreiro rather than by Don Pedro Bautista Pino. The very rare original 1812 book by Don Pedro Baptista (so spelled on its title page) Pino is reproduced in facsimile in the 1942 book, as is the very rare original 1832 (not 1839) book by Antonio Barreiro. We can there see the original Spanish on pp. 15-16 of Barreiro’s 1832 book, reproduced in facsimile on pp. 277-278 of the 1942 book. The phrase is question is not found there. The whole quotation, in a complete and accurate English translation from p. 29 of the 1942 book, is as follows:

“All of the pueblos have their estufas. This is the name the Indians give to the subterranean rooms that have only one door. There they gather to practice their dances, to celebrate their feasts, and to have their meetings. These estufas are like impenetrable temples, where they gather to discuss mysteriously their misfortunes or good fortunes, their happiness or grief. The doors of the estufas are always closed to us, the Spaniards, as they call us.

“In spite of the dominion held over them by religion, all of these pueblos persist in keeping some of the dogmas which have been transmitted to them traditionally, and which they scrupulously teach their descendants. From this arise the worship they render the sun, the moon, and other celestial bodies, the reverence they have for fire, etc., etc.”

The original Spanish, reproduced on p. 278 of the 1942 book, also ends with etc., etc.:

“. . . el respeto que tienen al fuego &c. &c.”

Not only does Barreiro’s book make no mention of the phrase in question, “whose eggs are called Sibac,” it also makes no mention of “the great snake.” The mention of the great snake comes from a paragraph from a different book, quoted in The Catholic World immediately below the quotation from the Don Pedro Bautista Pino book. This book is there referenced as “Bancroft, Native Races, iii. 173. 174.”; i.e., The Native Races of The Pacific States of North America, by Hubert Howe Bancroft, Volume III: Myths and Languages, London, 1875. This book, too, makes no mention of “whose eggs are called Sibac.” The paragraph that is quoted in The Catholic World, and from there quoted in Isis Unveiled, mistaking it as being from Pino’s 1812 report, says only (Bancroft, pp. 173-174):

“The Pueblo chiefs seem to be at the same time priests; they perform the various simple rites by which the power of the sun and of Montezuma is recognized as well as the power—according to some accounts—of “the Great Snake, to whom by order of Montezuma they are to look for life;” they also officiate in certain ceremonies with which they pray for rain. There are painted representations of the Great Snake, together with that of a misshapen red-haired man declared to stand for Montezuma. Of this last there was also in the year 1845, in the pueblo of Laguna, a rude effigy or idol, intended, apparently, to represent only the head of the deity; it was made of tanned skin in the form of a brimless hat or cylinder open at the bottom.”

Thus the phrase “whose eggs are called Sibac,” found in the quotation given in The Secret Doctrine, is not found in the source it is said to be quoted from, nor in the other source quoted in The Catholic World that Blavatsky mistakenly took as being Pino’s 1812 report.

S.D. vol. 2, p. 222: “All except Xisuthrus and Noah, who are substantially identical with the great Father of the Thlinkithians in the Popol-Vuh, or the sacred book of the Guatemaleans, which also tells of his escaping in a large boat like the Hindu Noah — Vaivasvata.”

Max Müller, p. 338: “The Thlinkithians are one of the four principal races inhabiting Russian America. . . . These Thlinkithians believe in a general flood or deluge, and that men saved themselves in a large floating building.”

As may be seen, Müller’s statements about the Thlinkithians are not from the Popol Vuh. Müller was here bringing in additional material from other sources. The Thlinkithians, now written Tlingits, are Native Americans of coastal Alaska. There is, of course, no reference to them in the Popol Vuh.

The references to the Popol Vuh in The Secret Doctrine, based on Max Müller’s review article, have all been seen to be in some way erroneous. Likewise with the phrase “whose eggs are called Sibac,” which is not found in the source it is referenced to. Besides these, there is one other significant reference to the Popol Vuh in Theosophical writings. The first occurrence of it is in the comments by Aretas, pen name of James Morgan Pryse, on his partial translation of Brasseur de Bourbourg’s French translation. He writes (Lucifer, vol. 15, no. 87, 1894, p. 220):

“Of the seven races of mankind, the first three and one-half are lunar; the last three and one-half are solar. The former are symbolized in Popol Vuh by the men made of red earth, the cork-wood, and the pith of the pliant reed, who are destroyed because they are incapable of invoking Hurakan, the threefold solar fire. From these failures of the third race the monkeys are descendants; . . .”

This pertains to the Theosophical teaching that apes descended from third root-race humanity, rather than humanity descending from the apes. Since there are no apes in the New World, it would not be unreasonable to refer to them as monkeys, which do exist in the New World. But once again the erroneous numbers of the creations, among other things, invalidate this idea. As seen above, in the Popol Vuh the monkeys are remnants of the second attempt at the creation of human beings, not the third. This was the creation of the figure/doll/manikin/effigy people made of wood.

. . . . . . .

The Sources
(listed by date of publication)

The only source of the Quiché (or K’iche’) language Popol Vuh now extant is a copy written in Roman letters, made in the early 1700s CE at Rabinal by Father Francisco Ximénez (said to be in his handwriting by Recinos 1950, p. xii). This manuscript, now held at the Newberry Library in Chicago, includes his Spanish translation. The original is thought to have been written between 1554 and 1558 CE. This original was presumably based on an earlier hieroglyphic Popol Vuh.

An edition of the Spanish translation by Francisco Ximénez, based on an earlier now lost manuscript, was prepared by C. Scherzer and published as:

Las Historias del Origen de los Indios de esta Provincia de Gautemala, Viena [sic], 1857.

French translation, along with the Quiché text:

Abbé Brasseur de Bourbourg. Popol-Vuh. Le Livre Sacré et les Mythes de l’Antiquité Américaine, avec les Livres Héroïques et Historiques des Quichés. Paris, 1861.

Brasseur de Bourbourg’s translation was made directly from the Quiché text. The Quiché text did not have divisions, so Brasseur de Bourbourg divided it into four parts, and then each part into several chapters.

Review article on Brasseur de Bourbourg’s 1861 French translation:

Max Müller. “Popol Vuh,” Chapter XIV of his Chips from a German Workshop, vol. 1: Essays on the Science of Religion, London, 1867, pp. 313-340; pp. 332-340 is “Extracts from the ‘Popol Vuh’.”

This review article was written in 1862.

English translation of Brasseur de Bourbourg’s 1861 French translation, partial:

Aretas [pen name of James Morgan Pryse]. “The Book of the Azure Veil,” Lucifer: A Theosophical Magazine, vol. 15, no. 85, Sep. 15, 1894, pp. 41-49 (part 1, chap. 1); vol. 15, no. 86, Oct. 15, 1894, pp. 129-134 (chap. 2); vol. 15, no. 87, Nov. 15, 1894, pp. 220-229 (chaps. 3-5); vol. 15, no. 88, Dec. 15, 1894, pp. 311-316 (chaps. 6-7); vol. 15, no. 89, Jan. 15, 1895, pp. 404-408 (chaps. 8-9); vol. 15, no. 90, Feb. 15, 1895, pp. 478-481 (part 2, chap. 1).

This covers approximately the first fourth of Brasseur de Bourbourg’s 1861 French translation (see pp. 43, 482). It includes some commentary by Aretas regarding it as “a consistent allegory from the first to the last page” “a studied allegory of the secret instructions imparted in the initiation crypts of Central America” (p. 478).

English translation presumably based on and adapted from Brasseur de Bourbourg’s 1861 French translation, complete:

Kenneth Sylvan Guthrie. “The ‘Popol Vuh’ or Book of the Holy Assembly,” The Word: A Monthly Magazine, edited by Harold W. Percival, vol. 2, 1905-1906, pp. 8-23 (Guthrie’s introduction), 77-93 (Guthrie’s introduction, continued), 163-173 (part 1, chaps. 1-3), 224-238 (chaps. 4-9), 297-306 (part 2, chaps. 1-3.22), 369-378 (chaps. 3.23-6); vol. 3, 1906, pp. 41-54 (chaps. 7-11), 104-111 (chaps. 12-14), 167-174 (part 3, chaps. 1-4), 216-230 (chaps. 5-10, part 4, chap. 1-2.19), 302-311 (chaps. 2.20-6.11), 368-370 (chaps. 6.12-7); vol. 4, 1906-1907, pp. 59-61 (chaps. 8-9), 116-124 (chaps. 10-11).

The first part of Guthrie’s Introduction gives an outline of the book, and parallels to other traditions around the world. The second part gives parallels to the Theosophical teachings of the root-races, parallels to the Greek mystery teachings, and parallels of Greek and Quiche names as evidence for the existence of Atlantis. There is no division of parts, chapters, or paragraphs in the original manuscript of the Popol Vuh. Brasseur de Bourbourg divided the text into four numbered parts, and each part into numbered chapters, and each chapter into short paragraphs by indenting them; but he did not number them. Guthrie added numbers to these short paragraphs. Malpas, below, did not add numbers to them.

English translation of Brasseur de Bourbourg’s 1861 French translation, complete:

P. A. Malpas. “The Popol Vuh,” The Theosophical Path, 14 installments from vol. 37, no. 3, March 1930, to vol. 39, no. 4, April 1931. These are: vol. 37.3, pp. 200-213 (Malpas’s introduction, and part 1, chaps. 1-3), 37.4, pp. 322-328 (chaps. 4-7), 37.5, pp. 424-432 (chaps. 8-9, part 2, chaps. 1-2 partial), 37.6, pp. 522-531 (chaps. 2-5); vol. 38.1, pp. 73-81 (chaps. 6-8), 38.2, pp. 177-184 (chaps. 9-11), 38.3, pp. 271-276 (chaps. 12-13), 38.4, pp. 354-362 (chap. 14, part 3, chaps. 1-4), 38.5, pp. 448-457 (chaps. 5-9), 38.6, pp. 544-550 (chap. 10, part 4, chaps. 1-2); vol. 39.1, pp. 82-91 (chaps. 3-6), 39.2, pp. 138-145 (chaps. 7-9), 39.3, pp. 265-271 (chaps. 10-11 partial), 39.4, pp. 360-364 (chaps. 11-12).

The introduction by Malpas provides historical background for the Popol Vuh and its French translation. He notes that at the time Brasseur de Bourbourg translated the Popul Vuh he regarded it as containing historical records. But several years later he came to regard it as containing symbolism, at which time he began putting forward views supporting the existence of Atlantis as the land from which the Maya people came. This resulted in a loss of estimation in the eyes of the world. Malpas ends with a biographical sketch of Brasseur de Bourbourg and a brief survey of his writings. As for the translation, Malpas writes (p. 203) that Brasseur de Bourbourg “attempted no elegance of diction or style, because he desired to make it as literal a translation as possible. In translating his version into English we have followed the same plan.”

English translation of Spanish translation made directly from the Quiché text:

Adrián Recinos, Spanish translation, translated into English by Delia Goetz and Sylvanus G. Morley. Popol Vuh: The Sacred Book of the Ancient Quiche Maya. University of Oklahoma Press, 1950.

This is the first complete English translation of the Popol Vuh to become available in book form. It was made from the 1947 Spanish translation by Adrián Recinos, which was made directly from the Quiché. It has a lengthy Introduction, providing comprehensive information about the history of the text of the Popol Vuh, its manuscript and related books and materials. There are many excerpts from Spanish language sources that are very old and difficult to access. As for the translation, Recinos wrote (p. xiii): “Comparing the original text transcribed by Ximénez with the text published by Brasseur de Bourbourg, I noticed some differences, important omissions, and other changes which affect the interpretation of the Quiché document. Furthermore, the possibility of clarifying and correcting passages in the existing translations stimulated my desire to undertake a new version direct from the original Quiché into Spanish.”

First English translation made directly from the Quiché text:

Munro S. Edmonson. The Book of Counsel: The Popol Vuh of the Quiche Maya of Guatemala. Middle American Research Institute, Tulane University, New Orleans,1971.

Edmonson was not only the first to translate the Popol Vuh into English directly from the Quiché, but also the first translator of the Popol Vuh to treat it as being entirely written in poetry, in parallelistic couplets. His translation is formatted accordingly, as is the Quiché text, which he includes in facing columns. His Quiche-English Dictionary had been published earlier, in 1965. Besides this, for his translation he consulted the eleven previous translations that were made more or less directly from the Quiché: in Spanish (Ximénex 1703?, Villacorta and Rodas 1927, Recinos 1947 and 1953, Burgess and Xec 1955, Villacorta 1962), French (Brasseur de Bourbourg 1861, Raynaud 1925), German (Pohorilles 1913, Schultze-Jena 1944, Cordan 1962), and Russian (Kinzhalov 1959). He drew upon all of them in his notes, and he described each of their approaches in his Introduction (ix-xi). He wrote (p. xi) “The Popol Vuh is in poetry, and cannot be accurately understood in prose.” “That I have ventured to attempt a twelfth translation is largely owing to the failure of the previous versions to deal accurately with its major stylistic feature.”

Second English translation made directly from the Quiché text:

Dennis Tedlock. Popol Vuh: The Definitive Edition of the Mayan Book of the Dawn of Life and the Glories of Gods and Kings, New York, 1985.

Revised edition, Popol Vuh: The Mayan Book of the Dawn of Life, New York, 1996.

This translation is formatted to be user friendly to those who only wish to read the text, without notes. So the unencumbered translation is given first. All the notes, about a hundred pages of them in smaller type, are given separately in the latter part of the book. The revised edition is a major revision, as Tedlock explains in his new Preface. It also has the notes at the back. Although the Quiché language is still spoken by large numbers of people, the Popol Vuh has long been lost to the Quiché people. Tedlock showed the text of the Popol Vuh to a Quiché “daykeeper,” a diviner, whom he had befriended and with whom he had apprenticed as a daykeeper. This man, Andrés Xiloj, agreed to go through the text with Tedlock. Tedlock wrote (1985, p. 16): “In the present volume the effects of the three-way dialogue among Andrés Xiloj, the Popol Vuh text, and myself are most obvious in the Glossary and the Notes and Comments, but they are also present in the Introduction and throughout the translation of the Popol Vuh itself.”

Third English translation made directly from the Quiché text:

Allen J. Christenson. Popol Vuh: The Sacred Book of the Maya, O Books, U.K., 2003;

Vol. 2: Literal Poetic Version: Translation and Transcription, 2004.

Reprint: University of Oklahoma Press, 2007-2008.

Christenson had learned to speak Quiché when working as a volunteer after the 1976 earthquake in Guatemala. A couple years later he began working on a Quiché dictionary and grammar at Brigham Young University. Back in Guatemala he trained as a daykeeper. He wrote that the first volume of his translation (p. 23): “aimed at elucidating the meaning of the text in light of contemporary highland Maya speech and practices, as well as current scholarship in Maya linguistics, archaeology, ethnography, and art historical iconography.” His second volume is a major study tool. Not only does it give a literal word for word translation and the facing Quiché text, but it also carefully formats both to reflect the Quiché poetic structure. Edmonson was the first to give the text in parallel couplets in his translation, as a necessary aid to their comprehension. Since his time additional poetic structures, not only parallel couplets, have been recognized in the Quiché text. Christenson’s formatting in this volume shows these.

Category: Anthropogenesis, Creation Stories, Uncategorized | No comments yet


Root-race Reference in Bhagavad-gītā?

By David Reigle on December 15, 2023 at 9:41 pm

Bhagavad-gītā, chapter 10, verse 6, referring to four preceding manus, was quoted in The Secret Doctrine (vol. 2, p. 140) in support of the Theosophical teaching of four preceding root-races. Since a manu is regarded as the progenitor of the humanity of its time period or manvantara, there is no difficulty in equating a manu with a root-race. The question is why the Bhagavad-gītā referred to the manus as four. This fits nicely with the Theosophical teaching, but not with the standard Hindu teaching. Indeed, because the standard Hindu teaching says that we are now in the seventh manvantara under the seventh manu, various Sanskrit commentators understood this line of the verse in varying ways. The Sanskrit line is ambiguous, allowing various interpretations. Does it really refer to the four preceding manus, thus supporting the Theosophical teaching of the four preceding root-races?

The translation of this verse quoted in The Secret Doctrine is that by T. Subba Row, from in his lecture on the Bhagavad-gītā given in December, 1886, and published in The Theosophist for April, 1887. Krishna is the speaker of this verse. It was there (vol. 8, p. 444) printed as:

“The seven great Rishis, the four preceding Manus, partaking of my nature, were born from my mind : from them sprang was (born) the human race and the world.”

This was slightly modified when H. P. Blavatsky quoted it in The Secret Doctrine (vol. 2, p. 140), legitimately making the singular “human race” into the plural “human races,” since the Sanskrit phrase, imāḥ prajāḥ, is plural:

“The Seven great Rishis, the four preceding Manus, partaking of my essence, were born from my mind : from them sprung (were born) the human races and the world.”

At that time there were very few translations of the Bhagavad-gītā available, the most prominent being the one by Kāshināth Trimbak Telang in the Sacred Books of the East Series, volume 8, 1882. Telang’s translation, pp. 86-87, similarly has “the four ancient Manus” for the words in question:

“The seven great sages, and likewise the four ancient Manus, whose descendants are (all) these people of the world, were all born from my mind, partaking of my powers.”

However, he adds a footnote to “the four ancient Manus”: “The words are also otherwise construed, ‘The four ancients (Sanaka, Sanandana, Sanātana, Sanatkumāra) and the Manus.’ According to later mythology the Manus are fourteen.”

That is, some commentators separate the “four ancients” from the manus, regarding the four ancients as the four kumāras (Sanaka, etc.), and the manus as a third group referred to in this line of the verse.

Subba Row was aware of this other interpretation, and he rejected it because of the well-known Hindu tradition that the kumāras refused to create, and thus humanity could not have sprung into existence from them. A long footnote quoting Subba Row’s comments on this verse is given in The Secret Doctrine. Immediately after this verse is quoted there in the main text, Blavatsky wrote: “Here the four preceding ‘Manus,’ out of the seven, are the four Races† which have already lived, since Krishna belongs to the Fifth Race, his death having inaugurated the Kali Yuga.” The footnote goes with “the four Races” (vol. 2, p. 140) [I have added the words in brackets]:

† This is corroborated by a learned Brahmin. In his most excellent lectures on the Bhagavad Gîtâ (see Theosophist,” April, 1887, p. 444) the lecturer says: “There is a peculiarity to which I must call your attention. He (Krishna) speaks here of four Manus. Why does he speak of four? We are now in the seventh Manvantara, that of Vaivasvata. If he is speaking of the past Manus, he ought to speak of six, but he only mentions four. In some commentaries an attempt has been made to interpret this in a peculiar manner. The word ‘Chatvaraha’ [catvāraḥ, “four”] is separated from the word ‘Manavaha,’ [manavaḥ, manus] and is made to refer to Sanaka, Sanandana, Sanatkumâra, and Sanatsujata, who are also included among the mind-born sons of Prajâpati. But this interpretation will lead to a most absurd conclusion, and make the sentence contradict itself. The persons alluded to in the text have a qualifying clause in the sentence. It is well known that Sanaka and the other three refused to create, though the other sons had consented to do so; therefore, in speaking of those persons from whom humanity has sprung into existence, it would be absurd to include those four also in the list. The passage must be interpreted without splitting the compound into two nouns. The number of Manus will then be four, and the statement would then contradict the Purânic account, though it would be in harmony with the occult theory. You will recollect that it is stated (in Occultism) that we are now in the Fifth Root-Race. Each Root-Race is considered as the Santhathi [saṃtati, “race, progeny”] of a particular Manu. Now, the Fourth Race has passed, or, in other words, there have been four past Manus. . . . .”

What Subba Row says here about the meaning makes sense, and would well explain the unusual reference to four preceding manus, but the Sanskrit is not unambiguous. His statement saying that “The passage must be interpreted without splitting the compound into two nouns” is grammatically incorrect. The two words are not in a compound; they are individually declined: catvāro manavas. I have checked the text of the Bhagavad-gītā as found in the critical edition of the Mahābhārata published by the Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute, and no variant reading is reported giving these two words in a compound. Since the words in this line of the verse are in the same nominative case, the same plural number, and the same masculine gender, any of them can be taken with any of them. The various Sanskrit commentators were fully aware of this, and they did so. The words of this line of the verse are:

maharṣayaḥ sapta pūrve catvāro manavas tathā, meaning the great rishis (maharṣayaḥ) seven (sapta) preceding or ancient (pūrve) four (catvāro) manus (manavas) also (tathā).

The “four” (catvāro) is in grammatical agreement with “preceding or ancient” (pūrve) and with “manus” (manavas). This allows the possibility of taking this phrase either as “the four preceding manus,” or as “the four ancients and also the manus.” Thus there could be two groups spoken of here in this line: the rishis and the manus; or there could be three groups spoken of here: the rishis, the ancients, and the manus. So how do we know what is meant?

For grammatically ambiguous passages such as this one, which are frequent in Sanskrit, the only available recourse we have is to commentaries. The older the commentary, the closer to the original in time, the more likely it is to represent the author’s intended meaning. However, the ancient commentaries on the Bhagavad-gītā are lost. The oldest available commentary is that by Śaṅkarācārya, perhaps a millennium or more after the Bhagavad-gītā was written. He sees two groups here: the seven rishis and the four manus. He glosses the word pūrve, “preceding or ancient,” simply as “belonging to past time,” atīta-kāla-saṃbandhinaḥ, without specifying whether it goes with the seven rishis or the four manus. Commentaries, too, can be ambiguous. Śaṅkara glosses the four manus as sāvarṇā iti prasiddhāḥ, “known as the sāvarṇas.” The next oldest available commentary is that by Rāmānuja. He, too, sees two groups here: the seven rishis and the four manus. Like Śaṅkara, he glosses the four manus as the sāvarṇas: sāvarṇikā nāma catvāro manavaḥ. So who are the sāvarṇas?

As is well known, fourteen manus are posited by Hinduism. These are, from earliest to latest: 1. Svāyambhuva; 2. Svārociṣa; 3. Uttama or Auttami; 4. Tāmasa; 5. Raivata; 6. Cākṣuṣa; 7. Vaivasvata; 8. Sāvarṇi or Sāvarṇo; 9. Dakṣa-sāvarṇi/o; 10. Brahma-sāvarṇi/o; 11. Dharma-sāvarṇi/o; 12. Rudra-sāvarṇi/o; 13. Raucya or Raucyadeva-sāvarṇi/o; 14. Bhautya or Indra-sāvarṇi/o. We are currently in the seventh manvantara, or time period of the seventh manu, Vaivasvata. As can be seen, the sāvarṇas are the future manus, Sāvarṇi/o, etc. Indeed, Rāmānuja’s sub-commentator Vedānta Deśika provides the names of the four sāvarṇikas: brahmasāvarṇo rudrasāvarṇo dharmasāvarṇo dakṣasāvarṇaḥ. This raises a problem. How can future manus be the progenitors from whom all the people of the world (loka imāḥ prajāḥ) have come, as the second half of the verse says?

The third oldest available commentary is that by Madhva. He, too, sees two groups here: the seven rishis and the four manus. But for him the four manus cannot be the sāvarṇas, and must be the first four manus, Svāyambhuva, etc.: catvāraḥ prathamāḥ svāyambhuvādyāḥ. Madhva’s sub-commentator Jayatīrtha provides the names of these four manus: Svāyambhuva, Svārociṣa, Raivata, and Uttama (svāyambhuva-svārociṣa-raivatottamāḥ). The later commentators Śaṅkarānanda and Rāghavendra agree, Śaṅkarānanda saying the same as Madhva: svāyambhuvādayaś catvāro manavaś ca, and Rāghavendra like Jayatīrtha adding the names of the four manus: Svāyambhuva, Svārociṣa, Raivata, and Uttama (catvāraḥ svāyambhuva-svārociṣa-raivatottamākhyāḥ manavaḥ). This interpretation, of course, leaves unanswered the question of why the Bhagavad-gītā refers to only four preceding manus rather than six manus preceding the seventh manvantara that we are now living in.

Other later commentators avoided this problem by seeing three groups here: the seven rishis, the four ancients, and the manus. Thus, Śrīdhara Svāmi (catvāro mahārṣayaḥ sanakādayaḥ), Upaniṣad Brahma Yogin (pūrve sanakādayo ’nye catvāraḥ), Keśava Kāśmīri Bhaṭṭācārya (catvāro mahārṣayaḥ sanakādayaḥ), Sadānanda (sanakādayaḥ), and Daivajña Paṇḍita Sūrya (catvāraḥ sanakādayas) all agree on seeing the four ancients as the four kumāras beginning with Sanaka, a separate group distinct from the manus. This, however, brings in its own problem, as pointed out by Subba Row: The kumāras are eternal youths, celibates, who did not create progeny; hence they could not be the progenitors from whom all the people of the world have come.

A few of the later commentators, i.e., Madhusūdana and Dhanapati-sūri, allowed both options, but this is of little help to us.

This verse 10.6 of the Bhagavad-gītā, then, with its various differing interpretations, does not provide unambiguous support for the Theosophical teaching of four preceding root-races. The interpretation of this verse as referring to the four preceding manus is just one of three interpretations found in the commentaries that are now available. The reference to four rather than six preceding manus is indeed anomalous in Hindu tradition, and some explanation of this phrase is needed. So readers must decide what they think makes more sense: (1) four future manus, (2) four preceding manus, or (3) the four ancient kumāras along with the manus whose number is unspecified. The language of this unusual reference in the Bhagavad-gītā may be most simply understood as the four preceding manus. As for why four instead of six preceding manus, the Theosophical teaching of the four preceding root-races provides an answer, while the available commentaries leave this question unanswered. So this verse may support the Theosophical teaching of the root-races inferentially, but it does not do so in a clear and unambiguous manner.

Category: Anthropogenesis, Occult Chronology | No comments yet


The Book of Dzyan: Some Themes Related to Chinese Traditional Religion

By Ingmar de Boer on October 24, 2023 at 10:04 pm

1. Introduction on Shenism

In a previous article, On the Etymology of the Term Fohat, I have identified with reasonable certainty the syllable “fo” in the term “fohat”. H.P. Blavatsky (HPB) mentions in an editorial note to an article in The Theosophist entitled Theosophy and the Avesta (see also CW IV, 242-243), a number of terms from Chinese traditional religion and their corresponding principles as part of the “septenary division of man”. In the same note she refers to the 1847 work A Dissertation on the Theology ofthe Chinese by Walter Henry Medhurst (1796-1857)1, where the Chinese syllable 魄 (pò) was found2, corresponding to the syllable “fo” of The Secret Doctrine (SD). Further research exposed quite a few interesting connections between the text of the stanzas of volume one of the SD, and elements of Chinese Traditional Religion and the literature connected with it, which I will describe in the following paragraphs of this article.

Chinese traditional religion or Chinese folk religion is usually defined as the syncretic forms of the three great religions of China, Taoism, Confucianism and Buddhism, and the veneration of the shén and the ancestors. All of these components occur in Chinese traditional religion, mixed in different proportions, varying with time in different social settings. This multidimensional and dynamic religious complex was first called “shenism” by the anthropologist Allan J.A. Elliott in his 1955 work Chinese spirit-medium cults in Singapore.3

Traditional Chinese Medicine, acupuncture, several forms of divination and astrology, and also several forms of martial arts and their derivatives are connected to shenism, to various degrees. Japanese Shinto has strong parallels with shenism, and the syllable shin in the word shinto (神道, Chin. shén dào, the way of the shén) is cognate with shén (神). The shén (神) themselves are called kami (神, the same character) in Japanese. According to scholars in the field, the veneration of the shén is very ancient, however it would have evolved particularly strong during the Han dynasty (206 BCE – 220 CE). Today, shenism is still very popular in China and according to some researchers it is the most important religion in mainland China, with more than a quarter of the Chinese population being considered shenist. That would amount to more than 375 million people.4

2. The Divine Breath

Medhurst explores in his dissertation the meaning of the word shîn (神, pīnyīn: shén, spirit), summing up different occurrences of this word in Chinese dictionaries and classical works. To theosophists, the shén are most easily explained as the dhyan chohans in the SD. The same term dhyan chohans is used for the seven great lords of meditation as well as for the hierarchies of beings under their rule, while similarly the word shén is also used to denote both of these in the context of Chinese religion.

On p. 7 of his dissertation, Medhurst translates and paraphrases several definitions from the famous Kāng Xī dictionary (康熙, 1716 CE) appearing under shîn (神, shén, spirit), one of which explains the relations between shîn (shén), kweì (guǐ), hwăn (hún), pĭh (HPB’s Pho, 魄, pò), the life breath k’he (qí, 祇), and the fundamental concepts of 隂 (yīn) and 陽 (yáng)5:

In the next definition of Shîn, given in the Dictionary, we meet with 鬼神 kweì shîn, under which the writer says, 陽魂爲神隂魄爲鬼 the soul of the male or superior principle of nature [陽, yáng] is called shîn, and the anima of the female or inferior principle of nature [隂, yīn] is called kweì; again, lest we should suppose that anything really divine is intended by the hwăn and pĭh, he says 氣之伸者爲神屈者爲鬼 the expanding quality of the breath or spirit of nature [祇, qí] is the shîn, and its contracting quality the kw.

We could compare this text to śloka 10 and 11 of stanza III (SD I, 83):



The “breath of fire” in this comparison corresponds to shîn and the “breath of the mother” correpsonds to kweì. The “fire”, or “father”, matches the “superior principle of nature” (yáng) and the mother the “inferior principle of nature” (yīn). Father-Mother is the unity of yīn and yáng. This is a thought that we might have had when we first read these ślokas, but here we have it layed out for us. Mencius calls the “breath or spirit of nature” qí, which is generally known from traditional Chinese medicine and other fields of interest, often spelled “chi” or “ki”. The soul of the male or superior principle of nature (yáng) is actually called hún in Medhurst’s text, and the anima of the female or inferior principle of nature (yīn) is called pò. The hún and pò are called shén and guǐ since their “qualities” of expanding and contracting are shén and guǐ respectively.

In śloka 11 the sons expand and contract, being under the influence of the qualities of the breath (qí). The sons are the (seven) elements, but they have (seven) corresponding powers or intelligences. Elsewhere in the SD, the sons are called the sons of fohat, who are also his brothers. Fohat is himself one of the sons (powers), or the “synthesis” of these powers. (SD I, 293) The sons expand and contract “through their own selves and hearts”, because they are forces which are intrinsically of expanding (shén) or contracting (guǐ) quality. As we know, in the summary to the first part of the first volume of the SD (I, 269-299), they are described as six primary forces, or śakti’s, and as the six hierarchies of dhyan chohans (dhyāni buddhas).

On p. 5 Medhurst continues to cite from the Kāng Xī dictionary:

[…] for 申卽引也 to expand […] means to lead forth; for 天主降氣以感萬物 heaven manages or directs the sending down of the k’he or breath of nature to influence all things, 故言引出萬物 therefore it is said, lead forth all things. […] It is Heaven that sends down its breath or spirit to influence or lead forth all things, and Shîn is the spirit thus employed.

We may compare these passages to śloka 12 (SD I, 85):


On p. 15 in Medhurst’s dissertation we find also the element of the “web”, here a “net”, spun between heaven and earth, or spirit and matter in the Book of Dzyan:

Betwixt heaven and earth there is nothing so great as this breath of nature; that which enters into every fibre and atom is the male and female principle of nature, and that which incloses heaven and earth as in a net, is this male and female principle of nature.

This fragment is, according to Medhurst, a commentary to a quote from Confucius (孔子, Kǒng Zǐ, 551-479 BCE), but I have as yet not been able to find original texts of the quote or its commentary. I think however, that the correspondence with the already cited ślokas 10 and 11 is evident.

3. Father-Mother

In the Shū jīng (書經), the Book of Documents, originally written before or at the beginning of the Han dynasty, we find again the theme of heaven and earth as the basis of all subsequent phenomena. In Legge’s 1879 translation in volume 3 of the Sacred Books of the East series (p. 125), we find for example about the emperor:

Heaven and earth is the parent of all creatures; and of all creatures man is the most highly endowed. The sincerely intelligent (among men) becomes the great sovereign; and the great sovereign is the parent of the people.

In the first phrase of this quotation we read the word “parent”, a word we know is used in the first śloka of the Book of Dzyan as it is presented in the SD. Interestingly, in the English sentence by Legge, heaven and earth are plural, but are translated as singular. We have here an example of “heaven-earth”, a nominal compound in the Chinese source text, translated by Legge as a single noun. The word parent however, is also a nominal compound in the source text, namely 父母 (fù mǔ), which is litterally “father-mother”.

At the time HPB wrote the SD, there was at least one translation which rendered fù mǔ literally as father-mother. In the 1770 French translation by sinologists Joseph de Guignes and Antoine Gaubil (Le chou-king, un des livres sacrés des Chinois, p. 150), the same quotation from Confucius is as follows:

Le Ciel & la terre ſont le pere & le mere de toutes choſes. L’homme, entre toutes ces choſes, eſt le ſeul qui ait un raiſon capable de diſcerner; mais un Roi doit l’emporter par ſa droiture & pas ſon diſscernement; il eſt maître des hommes, il eſt leur pere & leur mere.

Heaven and earth are the father and mother of all things. Man, among all these things, is the only one who has a rationality capable of discerning; but a King must prevail by his righteousness and not his discernment; he is master of men, he is their father and their mother. [tr. IdB]

Much later, that is after the SD was written, sinologist William Edward Soothill actually uses the compound father-mother in his English translation (1913, The Three Religions of China, p.196):

Heaven and earth are the father-mother of all creatures, and of all creatures men are the most intelligent. The sincere, wise, and understanding among them becomes the great sovereign, and the great sovereign is the father-mother of the people.

Without unambiguously identifying the source of HPB’s use of father-mother in śloka 10 and 11 of stanza III and other places, we can imagine that this characteristic grammatical feature of the Book of Dzyan as given by HPB might be based upon the Chinese nominal compound.

4. Being is Non-Being

One of the ideas we come across in the Book of Dzyan is the “identity of opposites”, in particular when it comes to Being and Non-Being. HPB herself calls it a paradox or a “contradiction in terms”. We find it in several places in the first stanza, for example in SD I, 42:


We find HPB’s commentary on 6 in SD I, 43 under (c):

(c) By “that which is and yet is not” is meant the Great Breath itself, which we can only speak of as absolute existence, but cannot picture to our imagination as any form of existence that we can distinguish from Non-existence.

In SD I, 44 we find:


The commentary on 7 we find in SD I, 45 under (b) (the page header of p. 45 is “BEING AND NON-BEING”):

(b) The idea of Eternal Non-Being, which is the One Being, will appear a paradox to anyone who does not remember that we limit our ideas of being to our present consciousness of existence; […] In our case the One Being is the noumenon of all the noumena which we know must underlie phenomena, and give them whatever shadow of reality they possess, but which we have not the senses or the intellect to cognize at present.

In SD I, 47 paramārthasatya (absolute truth) and saṃvṛttisatya (relative truth) are contrasted:

9. […] Absolute Being and Consciousness which are Absolute Non-Being and Unconsciousness […]

This idea of the “identity of opposites” is also found in Lao Tze’s well-known classic Tao Te Ching (道德经, dào dé jīng). In the Introductory to the SD (I, xxv), the “Tao-te-King” is mentioned, and its 1842 translation into French by Stanislas Julien. This translation was the first translation of the Tao Te Ching into a Western language, and an outstanding piece of scholarly work. The idea of identity of opposites is presented in chapters I and II of the Tao Te Ching: in chapter I the concept of Tao itself is explained, while in chapter II the unity of opposites is discussed. In chapter II we find in Julien’s text:


C’est pourquoi l’être et le non-être naissent l’un de l’autre.

That is why being and non-being are born from each other. [tr. IdB]

An example of a more modern English translation of the same passage would be that of John C.H. Wu (1961):

Indeed, the hidden and the manifest give birth to each other.

The terms hidden and manifest may be closer to the SD, but they are not literal translations.

On p. 8 in Julien, in the comments of the later editors, we find in “edition B” from the Song era:

The non-being produces the being; the being produces the non-being. These beings, not being able to subsist eternally, end by returning to the non-being. [tr. IdB]

We can see here, that being and non-being are described as co-originated and interdependent. They create, complement and shape each other. We may associate this with yin and yang as complementary factors in the universe. The Book of Dzyan however goes one step further, in saying that they are identical, or that they are one and the same noumenon.

A different source of the SD on this topic is Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel’s Wissenschaft der Logik. In SD II, 449n we find:

* The Hegelian doctrine, which identifies Absolute Being or “Be-ness” with “non-Being,” and represents the Universe as an eternal becoming, is identical with the Vedanta philosophy.

and in SD I, 16 we find a similar sentence:

The ABSOLUTE; the Parabrahm of the Vedantins or the one Reality, SAT, which is, as Hegel says, both Absolute Being and Non-Being.

and in SD II, 490:

A thing can only exist through its opposite — Hegel teaches us […]

For comparison: in Hegel’s Wissenschaft der Logik we find for example in Vol. I p. 12:

Der Anfang enthält alſo beydes, Seyn und Nichts; iſt die Einheit von Seyn und Nichts; — oder iſt Nichtseyn, das zugleich Seyn, und Seyn, das zugleich Nichtseyn iſt.

The beginning therefore contains both, Being and Nothing; is the Unity of Being and Nothing; — or is Non-Being, which is at the same time Being, and Being, which is at the same time Non-Being. [tr. IdB]

and on Becoming out of Non-Being and Being, Vol. I. p. 23:

Ihre Wahrheit iſt also dieſe Bewegung des unmittelbaren Verſchwindens des einen in dem andern; das Werden;

Its truth is therefore this movement of the immediate disappearance of the one in the other; the becoming; [tr. IdB]

Here it is clear that there is an actual identity of opposites, which is perhaps a deeper level of insight which may be associated with the so-called yin and yang symbol. The black and white dots may be thought of as representing this idea. The movement suggested by the two halves may represent the eternal becoming, which is called Motion in the text of the SD, and is symbolised in the Book of Dzyan as the Great, or Divine, Breath.

5. The Great Extreme

Searching the SD for Chinese philosophy and related topics, we find Confucius and confucianism mentioned twenty-three times in volumes I and II. In these locations, we come across the “Great Extreme” several times. It is a term from neo-confucianism, but connected to the ancient philosophy of the I-Ching (易經, yì jīng), the Book of Changes. It signifies the “the commencement ‘of changes’ (transmigrations)”. (SD I, 440) Its character representation is 太極 (tài jí). Different Western scholars have used different translations of his term, ranging from “le grand faîte”, “magnus terminus”, “la grande limite” (Guillaume Pauthier), “le grand terme” (Joseph Prémare), “the Grand Terminus” (James Legge), to “the Great Extreme”, a term used by Medhurst in his already mentioned Dissertation.

HPB not only had read Medhurst’s Dissertation on this topic, but also Legge’s well-known translation of the I-Ching with its appendices. This translation was first published in 1882 as volume 16 in Max Müller’s Sacred Books of the East series. For instance, on p. 373 as part of Legge’s translation of the Xì Cí (繫辭) I.11, we find:

70. Therefore in (the system of) the Yî there is the Grand Terminus, which produced the two elementary Forms. Those two Forms produced the Four emblematic Symbols, which again produced the eight Trigrams.

This fragment is rendered in SD I, 440. The Yî (易, yì) is of course the I-Ching, and the two elementary forms are symbolised there by the straight and broken lines of the system of the I-Ching, which is its representation of the cosmos. With two basic lines, 26=64 hexagrams are formed, each one characterising a stage in a model process of evolution.

In a different appendix to the I-Ching, the Xù Guà (序卦), in paragraph 1 (tr. Legge, appendix VI, p. 433), we find:

When there were heaven and earth, then afterwards all things were produced. What fills up (the space) between heaven and earth are (those) all things. Hence (Qian [hexagram I, 天, qián, heaven] and Kun [hexagram II, 坤, kūn, earth]) are followed by Zhun [hexagram III, 屯, tún, sprouting].

So, from the Great Extreme, heaven and earth are produced, the “two elementary forms”, “the twofold” (兩儀, liǎng yí), which serves as a basis for all other productions.6

Just for comparison, we can read again part of stanza III śloka 10 (SD I, 83):


In SD II, 553, the Great Extreme (太極, tài jí) is identified as the “concealed unity of the secret doctrine”, and compared to parabrahman, ein-sof and equivalent concepts from different cultural backgrounds. These are however limitless, noumenal instances, while the neo-confucian philosophers generally distinguish between the Great Extreme and different varieties of infinity. The term “extreme” itself signifies a limit, and the Great Extreme, or Terminus, is defined as an upper limit of the manifested cosmos. Zhū Xī (朱熹, 1130-1200), one of the most important thinkers among the “Sung sages”, places another concept next to the Great Extreme, namely 無極 (wú jí), literally “without boundary”. We can think of it as not only without spatial boundary, but also without temporal limitations. Zhū Xī inserts between these two characters the particle 而 (ér, and) to form a new concept, 無極而太極, wú jí ér tài jí, which is symbolised by a circle. The concepts of yīn and yáng are then defined as its movement 陽 yáng and its retraction 陰 yīn. Perhaps we could think of the Great Extreme as the protogonos or Second Logos, and the Being-without-limits (wú jí) as the concealed Lord, the First Logos of the secret doctrine. Alternatively we could think of wú jí ér tài jí, the Being-with-and-without-limits, as parabrahman, represented as the “immaculate white disk within a dull black ground” in the archaic manuscript in SD I, 1.

6. Alchemy and the Human Soul

Stevan Harrell, in the opening sentences of his article The Concept of Soul in Chinese Folk Religion, states that7:

The concept of “soul” (ling-hun) [灵魂, líng hún] is central to the study of Chinese folk religion for at least three reasons. First, the idea of ling-hun underlies most notions of supernatural beings. […] Second, the loss of one’s “soul” is an extremely common explanation for many kinds of diseases and abberation, both mental and physical, that are treated by Chinese “sacred medicine.” […] Third, trance—a state common to folk practitioners in many parts of southern China—is invariably explained in terms of “soul” travel of spirit possession.

Elliott, whom we came across in the introduction, briefly describes the role of the shén (shen) and guǐ (kuei) in human psychology (op. cit. p. 28-29):

The Chinese concept of shen is closely associated with the idea of the human soul. The soul of a living man is conceived as having two components, the hun [魂] or positive component, which has three parts representing the three spiritual energies, and the p’o [魄] or negative component, which has seven parts representing the seven emotions. Shen and kuei are the ultimate spiritual influences, positive and negative respectively, which underlie the two components of the soul.

Legge in Chinese Classics Vol. I , p. 262, in his commentary to chapter 16 of The Doctrine of the Mean (中庸, zhōng yōng), formulates the same idea as follows:

[shén] signifies “spirits”, “a spirit”, “spirit”; and [guǐ] “a ghost”, or “demon”. The former is used for the animus, or intelligent soul [魂, hún], and the latter for the anima, or animal, grosser, soul [魄, pò], so separated.

In an earlier stage of this investigation into the term fohat, I had already come across an original Chinese text where the term pò (魄) is used within the broader context of traditional Chinese religion, in The Secret of the Golden Flower (太乙金華宗旨, Tài yǐ jīnhuá zōngzhǐ), a Taoist alchemical work translated by Richard Wilhelm into German, first published in 1929.

In 1931 an English translation was published, with an extensive commentary by Carl Gustav Jung. In Jung’s commentary (p. 65), a diagram may be found in which the various concepts are laid out on which the alchemical system is based. I reproduced it here in part. In this diagram we find the term pò (“anima”), and in the Chinese text the same character 魄 (pò) is used as in “fohat”.

In the diagram as it is partly reproduced here, we see Tao (dào) at the top, splitting into a masculine and a feminine spirit, yáng and yīn. The human principles hún and pò are labeled animus and anima. According to Jung’s commentary, the two human souls pò and hún, which are in conflict during the life of an individual. The terms animus and anima are the masculine and feminine meta-physical dimensions of the human being. They have a different sense than animus and anima in Jung’s writings on archetypes. At death they pass into guǐ (鬼), a ghost being, and shén (神), a spirit or god. It is clear that the same subject matter is discussed here as in HPB’s editorial note to the article Theosophy and the Avesta and in Medhursts dissertation.

If we compare the details of the model we find however, that the human principles HPB describes in her editorial note do not match those in The Secret of the Golden Flower. For example, if hún and pò are opposing principles, why do we find them related to ātman and kāma manas, which are by no means natural opposites? Perhaps we will have to conclude that the correspondence given by HPB, between the human principles and the Chinese terms is again a “blind”, and that we have to rely on our own understanding to find the actual correspondence here.

In the alchemical transformation which is described in The Secret of the Golden Flower, the opposing principles hún and pò are involved in the creation of the Golden Flower which is eventually dissolved into Tao (dào). In the commentary, Jung describes the hún and pò principles in man as logos and eros, the intellectual and passionate principles, which theosophists would perhaps call manas and kāma. He refers to chapter V of his own 1921 work Psychologische Typen, where he discusses the hún and pò souls:

Die Existenz der zwei auseinanderstrebenden, gegensätzlichen Tendenzen, die beide den Menschen in extreme Einstellungen hineinzureissen und ihn in die Welt — sei es in deren geistige, sei es in deren materielle Seite — zu verwickeln und dadurch mit sich selber zu veruneinigen vermögen, fordert die Existenz eines Gegengewichtes, welches eben die irrationale Grösse des Tao ist.

The existence of two mutually contending tendencies, both striving to drag man into extreme attitudes and entangle him in the world—whether upon the spiritual or material side—thereby setting him at variance with himself, demands the existence of a counter-weight, which is just this irrational fact, Tao. [1923 Eng. ed. p. 267, tr. H. Godwin Baynes]

So described, the process of unification is doubtlessly more than just unification of the intellectual and passionate principles in man. In the context of alchemical transformation of The Secret of the Golden Flower, the shén and guǐ apparently represent the spiritual and material in man, the heaven and earth aspects of the human entity, ultimately to be unified in Tao.


In studying the SD, and a fortiori its presentation of the text from the Book of Dzyan, one of the main questions is still “what were HPB’s actual sources”? Is the Book of Dzyan an existing text she translated from the secret books of Kiu Te, or their commentaries, from some mysterious language like Senzar, or did HPB derive her often innovative ideas from contemporary works by Medhurst, Legge and others? Was the information passed on through the Masters of Wisdom or was she perhaps only inspired by them, while getting basic information from publicly accessible literature? Without any doubt she was intensely driven by her ideas, throughout her whole life, and arguably these ideas together constitute an important framework, perhaps even more so for today’s world. That in itself may speak for her authenticity as a writer. We could argue that if there would have been no mention of books of Kiu Te, if there would have been no Masters involved, no foreign languages, that her ideas would still be have been of great value. For a serious reader however, she often made it very difficult to distinguish between different layers of message and packaging. The SD has multiple layers of interpretation, and perhaps we should not at all be surprised about that, as in esoteric literature that is often the case.

The themes of the different paragraphs of this article, “The Divine Breath”, “Father-Mother”, “Being is Non-Being”, “The Great Extreme” and “Alchemy and the Human Soul” may all be starting points for further study in the highly interesting field of Chinese traditional religion. Perhaps the esoteric world view presented in the SD can be of use as a study tool, a means to gain more insight into a world of spells, mediumship and shamanic travels. Only in the last few decades academic research in different disciplines seems to be moving in a direction where scholars are trying to understand these as cultural phenomena in their own right, rather than to depreciate them, trying to describe them as Western ideas in distorted form, as misguided religion or failed science. In the nineteenth century HPB already tried to understand religious phenomena from a universal standpoint, finding out the meaning of the elements of different religious traditions for humans in their personal lives and for humanity as a whole. It is this attitude which served as a model idea for the Theosophical Society, which only later resulted in its three objects. ■


1. Rev. Medhurst was a Calvinist (Congregationalist) missionary stationed in Malacca, Batavia, Shanghai and a few other locations in East-Asia from 1816 to 1856. His aim with this dissertation is to find a word with a meaning closest to that of the word “God” in Christianity. Moreover, Medhurst composed four dictionaries himself, including a Chinese-English dictionary, and together with other translators he was the first to translate the Bible into Chinese. The Chinese phrases in Medhurst’s text are without exception immediately followed by their English translation. In the present article, when introduced, Medhurst’s old style Chinese transliteration is each time accompanied by contemporary pīnyīn transliteration and Chinese characters in their traditional form. The word “Chinese” in connection to language refers to Mandarin Chinese.

2. Boer, Ingmar de, On the Etymology of the Term Fohat, published October 24, 2023 on the Book of Dzyan website, at http://prajnaquest.fr/blog/

3. Elliott, Alan J.A., Chinese Spirit-Medium Cults in Singapore, The Athlone Press, London & Atlantic Higlands NJ, reprinted 1990 (first published 1955), p. 27-29

4. The Dutch researcher J.J.M. de Groot wrote extensively on the different human souls, or aspects of the human soul, in shenism. In volume IV of his monumental The Religious System of China, published in 1901, he describes the different souls in human psychology, various religious ceremonies, and physical and mental pathology.

5. This definition in the Kāng Xī dictionary is a paraphrase of a quotation from a work by Mencius (孟子, Mèng Zǐ, 372-289 BCE). Within Medhurst’s quotations from dictionaries and other works, other (third) works are often quoted. Here we have four levels: myself quoting Medhurst quoting the Kāng Xī dictionary quoting Mencius.

6. In Chinese, the conjunction “heaven and earth” is also written as a nominal compound, “heaven-earth” (天地, qián kūn), in a similar way to “father-mother” in the Book of Dzyan (vol. I stanza II, śloka 10), or, if you will, like a dvandva compound in Sanskrit. Two modern translators of the I-Ching, Rudolf Ritsema & Stephen Karcher, in their 1994 translation (p. 115), render heaven and earth as “Heaven[and]Earth”, expressing the inherent unity and interdependence of the two elements.

7. Harrell, Stevan, The Concept of Soul in Chinese Folk Religion, The Journal of Asian Studies, Vol. 38, No. 3 (May, 1979), p. 519-528

© 2023 Ingmar de Boer, published in The Netherlands

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On the Etymology of the Term Fohat

By Ingmar de Boer on at 8:03 am


In the great play called The Secret Doctrine (SD), perhaps the most important actor is fohat, and certainly the most enigmatic. The term has not yet been identified as part of any known language, although several suggestions are given by H.P. Blavatsky (HPB) in the SD and some of her other writings.

Many of the terms used in the SD were also used in Isis Unveiled (IU), the work HPB considered as a precursor of the SD. The term fohat however, is an exception in this respect. It was used in instructions of the Masters of Wisdom to A.P. Sinnet and A.O. Hume in September or October 1881. Sinnett’s notes of these instructions were published as Appendix II in The Letters of H.P. Blavatsky to A.P. Sinnett p. 376-386 under the title Cosmological Notes, and later partly as letter no. I in The Early Teachings of the Masters p. 184-193 (through question no. 16). It appeared in Mahātma letter no. XIII (Barker, i.e. 44 chronological) from M. to A.P. Sinnet, received January 1882 at Allahabad.

It first appeared in theosophical literature in 1882, when HPB wrote an editor’s note to T. Subba Row’s article The Aryan-Arhat Esoteric Tenets on the Sevenfold Principle in Man. (The Theosophist, Vol. III No. 4, January 1882, p. 93-99, later published in CW III, 400-418)

From then onwards, the term was used in HPB’s publications, various letters from the Masters of Wisdom, other writings by theosophists and other authors.

If we trace the locations where the term fohat is mentioned in this initial phase, we can set up a list of direct references to the meaning of the word or its etymology. In the table on page 1, these locations are listed, each with a short indication of their content and a suggested language if explicitly mentioned. The suggested languages are, in order of high to low frequency: Tibetan, Turanian, Sanskrit and Chinese. The word Turanian is used by HPB in a way that was common in her time, to indicate what we would now call the Altai or Altai-Uralic language family. If we consider the languages in terms of language families besides the Altai or Altai-Uralic, we can see that Chinese and Tibetan are members of the same language family, that is the Sino-Tibetan language family, whereas Sanskrit is a member of the Indo-European language family. The eight clues therefore point to three different language families. If words are of the same language family, that means that they may have cognate roots. If they are not, they may be related typically because they may be borrowed from languages belonging to the different language family. The fact that the different clues are pointing to several different language families, raises the question: is this puzzle solvable provided that all of the clues are valid? We will now analyse the different clues to see if we can find out more on the origin of the term fohat.

Clues 1-5: “a Tibetan Term”

In many places in the SD, HPB mentions that fohat is a buddhist term, used by occultists, esoteric philosophers, the brotherhood north of the Himalayas, the arahats of Tibet etc. In the Tibetan alphabet however, there is no letter “f”, and the language does not have sounds quite similiar to the English “f”. The letter “pha” is perhaps closest to our “f”. It is unclear why fohat is most often written with “f”. The syllable structure in Tibetan is subject to strict rules, which allow only for the two syllables being fo and hat, and not, for example, foh and at. If it would be a Tibetan “compound” word, it would therefore be a combination of the sounds fo and hat, perhaps most likely pho and hat. In location 8 it is spelled as “Pho-hat”, suggesting that it is indeed this two-part compound. In location 6 it is also suggested that fohat might be a compound, optionally bilingual. In location 5, in the Glossary near the end of Five Years of Theosophy, page 562, we find again “Fohat, Tibetan for Sakti: cosmic force or energizing power of the universe.”. In modern and older Tibetan dictionaries there is no mention of a word pho hat, or pho, with a meaning anywhere near our enigmatic term from the SD.

As a sidenote: we may be inclined to think that mahat and fohat are etymologically related, but in the case of fohat being a Tibetan compound this would not be possible. Mahat is a present active participle from the Sanskrit root “mah”, “to be or make great or big”. It means “making great” or “being big”, expressing the important role that was attributed to intellect or intelligence in ancient Indian philosophy. Being derived from the root mah plus ending -at, mahat is composed differently than fo/pho plus hat.

The numbers 6a and 6b are different renderings of the same question-and-answer session, so that we can take them together as one location.

Clue 6: “a Turanian compound” and Sanskrit bhū

That a word would be a “Tibetan term” on the one hand and a “Turanian compound” on the other, are in principle two linguistically incompatible statements, so strictly speaking the clues 1-5 and 6 contradict each other. The attributes Tibetan and Turanian (Altai-Uralic) point to different language families, but these particular languages are used in neighbouring areas, which is why, for example, a word is likely to have a false etymology, while in reality it is borrowed from one of the two. Another explanation might be that HPB received different pieces of information in the course of time. In any case, it remains up to us to decide which of the given options are correct. After a searching a selection of current literature, dictionaries and etymological databases, no Altai-Uralic candidates for “fo” or “hat” were found.

In location 6, a second idea is presented: the Chinese word “pho” being derived from the Sanskrit root bhū. This derivation is implausable, again because Chinese and Sanskrit are generally considered unrelated languages. Although there has been a lot of work done to try to unite the known language families into superfamilies, the Sino-Tibetan and Indo-European families are among the most unlikely partners. Moreover, we can see that the semantic fields of the Chinese and Sanskrit roots pho and bhū have nothing in common.

Clue 7: “Chinese characters”

Like locations 6a and 6b, location 7 is part of the transactions of the Blavatsky Lodge, but it was not published in the book bearing that title. These transactions were question-and-answer sessions, where HPB answered questions of the lodge members about successive stanzas from the Book of Dzyan. The larger part of the original handwritten notes of these sessions was recovered by Daniel Caldwell in 1995 and published in book form by Michael Gomes in 2010.

On March 28, 1889, the twelfth session was held at 17, Lansdowne Road, Holland Park, London, where a Mr. Atkinson (William Walker Atkinson), one of the participants who knew some Chinese, asks HPB if she could give the Chinese characters of the word fohat, to be able to look it up in a Chinese dictionary. On the question if the Chinese representation of the word consists of two syllables, HPB answers:

It is from those parts something I have been asking many times. Fo means brilliant. […] Mme. Blavatsky: I wish you would look somewhere where you could find it, because I have been looking for it in India. Mr. Atkinson: If you will only give me the Chinese characters, I will find that at once. Mme. Blavatsky: I have got it somewhere, but not in the Chinese.

It is remarkable that she gives yet another meaning of “fo”. In a modern Chinese dictionary the syllable fo is easy to identify, since there is only one matching syllable and character, which is 佛, fó, with rising tone, meaning Buddha. This syllable is mentioned several times by HPB, also as the origin of the first part of the word fohat. In fact, this syllable fó is borrowed from Sanskrit, as a Chinese rendering of “bu” in “buddha”. Probably the idea that the origin of fo(hat) is the Sanskrit root bhū is based on this, as HPB connects these two in location 6b. However, the two roots bud (to awaken, in “Buddha”) and bhū (to be) are unrelated. The syllable fó only means “Buddha” and not “brilliant”, so for clue 7 we are at a clear dead end.

Clue8: “Pho-hat” and the I Ching

Location 8 (CW IV, 242-243) is a footnote by HPB to an article on the sevenfold in Zoroastrianism, Theosophy and the Avesta, in The Theosophist Vol. IV, No. 1, October, 1882, p. 22. The footnote starts with:

Our Brother has but to look into the oldest sacred books of China—namely the Yi King, or Book of Changes (translated by James Legge) written 1200 B.C., to find that same Septenary division of man mentioned in that system of Divination.

Then seven Chinese terms are mentioned in connection with the seven human principles, see the following table.

The first edition of James Legge’s translation of the I Ching, published in 1882, is the only Western language edition published in HPB’s time. Following HPB’s advice, we have consulted this edition. We find that some of the terms of the “septenary division” are discussed in chapter three, so that we can determine the correct Chinese spelling. But again, our candidate for “fo”, the animal soul, “Pho”, is not to be found there.

If we continue reading the footnote, we find a reference to A Dissertation on the Theology of the Chinese by Walter Henry Medhurst, published in Shanghai in 1847. In this work we also find the terms of HPB’s septenary division, with their correct Chinese spelling. If we put together the information from Legge and Medhurst, we can set up another table, containing the orthography of all seven terms.

On page 5 in “A Dissertation…” we find: “The 鬼 kweì or 魄 pĭh in man, is the anima or grosser part of his spiritual nature […]”. If we look up the character 魄 in a modern Chinese dictionary we find that in modern pīnyīn transliteration it is spelled pò, and that its general meaning is “animal soul”. Could this be the “pho” of the septenary division? HPB writes in location 8:

In the Hwân, or soul (animus), the Khien predominates, and the Zing in the Pho or animal soul. At death the Hwân (or spiritual soul) wanders away, ascending, and the Pho (the root of the Tibetan word Pho-hat), descends and is changed into a ghostly shade (the shell).

From this sentence it is already clear without a doubt that this pho, or, as we now know, 魄 (pò), is indeed a rendering of the first syllable of the word fohat.

This character pò (魄), composed of 白 (bái) and 鬼 (guǐ), is found in some of the oldest Chinese dictionaries, the Ěryǎ (爾雅) and the Shuō wén jiě zì (說文解字), dating from the 3rd century BCE and the early 2nd century CE respectively. Very likely, it predates the Han-dynasty (206 BCE-220 CE). A substantial lemma is found in the Kāng Xī dictionary (康熙, 1716 CE). Linguists see cognates in the Tibetan words bla (soul, spirit) and zla (moon). (James A. Matisoff and others) The character is used in the Tao Te Ching (道德經), Lǎozi’s well known (arguably) 6th century BCE classic, where it is used in the sense of “animal soul”. (10.1) Another example of a relevant text is the The Secret of the Golden Flower (太乙金華宗旨, Tài Yǐ Jīnhuá Zōngzhǐ), a Taoist alchemical work translated by Richard Wilhelm and published in German in 1929. In 1931 an English translation (from German, by Cary F. Baynes) was published, with a preface by Carl Gustav Jung.

In the present article only the etymological dimension is investigated. Religious and philosophical aspects may be discussed in a second article.


Of the eight etymological clues, only the last one holds up.

Clues 1-5: The idea that fohat is a Tibetan word is not disproven entirely, but it is implausible, and a corresponding Tibetan root is not found.

Clue 6: Fohat being a Turanian compound is equally implausible. No cognate Altai-Uralic roots were found in current literature, dictionaries or etymological databases.

Clue 7: The first syllable being derived from the Chinese word for Buddha, which is the syllable 佛 (fó), or from the Sanskrit root bhū is both implausible.

Clue 8: The first syllable fo can be traced back to the Chinese character 魄 (pò), meaning “soul”, or “animal soul”. It has a role in Chinese traditional religion and philosophy which is at the basis of the cosmology and divination system of the I Ching.

Having exhausted all of HPB’s clues, a next step could be to find relevant original texts in the field of Chinese traditional religion. This would enable us to gather more information on fohat to be able to shed more light on the many remaining questions. A lot of useful information is already available in Medhurst’s 1847 work, but there will also be modern scholarly works perhaps presenting a more comprehensive picture. ■

© 2023 Ingmar de Boer, published in The Netherlands

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Category: Book of Dzyan, Cosmogenesis, Fohat | 3 comments


Who were the Turanians of The Secret Doctrine?

By Ingmar de Boer on October 19, 2023 at 9:43 pm


In volumes I and II of H.P. Blavatsky’s The Secret Doctrine (SD), the word “turanian” is mentioned 14 times. The variants Tur, Turan, the Turanians, Turanian languages and religions are mentioned quite frequently in the SD and several of her other writings. Sometimes the term is used in rather crucial passages. Our question here may be: who did HPB mean when she used the word Turanians?

Max Müller’s Model of Language Development

An illustrative example of the use of the term Turanian is the following, from SD I, xxix:

Nevertheless, having found that “there is a natural connection between language and religion”; and, secondly, that there was a common Aryan religion before the separation of the Aryan race; a common Semitic religion before the separation of the Semitic race; and a common Turanian religion before the separation of the Chinese and the other tribes belonging to the Turanian class; having, in fact, only discovered “three ancient centres of religion” and “three centres of language,” and though as entirely ignorant of those primitive religions and languages, as of their origin, the professor does not hesitate to declare “that a truly historical basis for a scientific treatment of those principal religions of the world has been gained!”

The professor in this citation is Friedrich Max Müller, who in his 1861 work Lectures on the Science of Language, proposed a threefold model of language development, comprising three separate language families: Semite, Aryan and Turanian. Müller’s Semite and Aryan families correspond with our modern Semite and Indo-European language families. Turanian then corresponds largely to the Altai and Uralic languages (Turkish, Hungarian, Finnish, Mongolian, etc.), but also includes for example Tibetan and Burmese (now Sino-Tibetan), Thai (now Dai), Yeniseian (now Dené-Yeniseian), and Tamil and Telugu (now Dravidian). We might say that initially the Turanian family contained grosso modo every language which did not fit into the other two. Most of the currently known African, American and Polynesian languages and language families are not part of the threefold model, as they did not yet receive full attention of language researchers in Müller’s time.

In Müller’s later works on historical linguistics, Chinese is more decisively seen as separate from the Turanian family. Chinese has a more “primitive” grammatical structure than Turanian, and while the Turanian languages would correspond to nomadic people, Chinese would be a language suited for a more “family-oriented” people, as Müller suggested. In the quotation from SD I, xxix, HPB reflects the idea that within a certain period of time the Chinese tribes would have split off from the other Turanian tribes.

HPB’s View on the Turanian Languages

In several places in the SD, we find the Chinese tribes or peoples explicitly mentioned as separate from the Turanian tribes, as in SD I, 113:

This esoterism […] cannot be claimed by the Turanians, so-called, the Egyptians, Chinese, Chaldeans, nor any of the Seven divisions of the Fifth Root Race, but really belongs to the Third and Fourth Root Races, […]

HPB’s subtle criticism on Müller’s ideas may be discerned in the words “Turanians, so-called”. HPB also mentions that “The occult doctrine admits of no such divisions as the Aryan and the Semite, accepting even the Turanian with ample reservations.” In Isis Unveiled I, 576n we already find the same critical tone in her definition of “Turanian”:

The appropriate definition of the name “Turanian” is, any ethnic family that ethnologists know nothing about.

In SD II, 198, Müller’s ideas on language development are explained in somewhat more detail by HPB, correlated to the various early races according to the views presented in the SD.

Monosyllabic languages are related to the third race, “that of the first approximately fully developed human beings at the close of the Third Root-race, the ‘golden-coloured,’ yellow-complexioned men, after their separation into sexes”. Agglutinative languages are related to the Atlantic, fourth race, and inflectional languages to the Aryan and Semitic races. Müller also calls the Chinese language “monosyllabic”, which he sees as a more primitive stage of language development. The designation “agglutinative” covers the Turanian language group.

In the nineteenth century discussion on human evolutionary development, one of the key questions was: did the various human races develop from different isolated origins, or did they develop from one root stock? The first point of view was termed polygenism and the second monogenism. It is only in our time that science has developed a more realistic view of human development, explaining, incorporating and placing relative to each other the arguments for and against poly- and monogenism respectively.

HPB clearly does not agree with Müller’s theory of the three separate origins and, as we may know, in the view presented in the SD, the different races are, very importantly, not separate developments, as the fourth race has its origin in the third, as again the fifth in the fourth. For instance in SD II, 425 she conveys that the Turanians and Chinese have the late third race as a common ancestor:

They “of the yellow hue” are the forefathers of those whom Ethnology now classes as the Turanians, the Mongols, Chinese and other ancient nations; […]

Combining these opposing ideas, of relatively separate evolutionary entities on the one hand and their common ancestor on the other, we may think of the following structure:

From a modern point of view, a structure like this looks more realistic, resembling a modern “genetic tree diagram”. We see that the early races develop from each other, while the different individual cultures or languages all descend from a central line of development. Moreover, according to HPB, race mixing to form new civilisations is also a mechanism actually taking place, which is not taken into account in this diagram.

In SD II, 434 the following diagram is given:

In the description of this diagram, the letter A represents a “root race”. Today we would call these evolutionary strands differently, but for reference we need the original terminology here. Examples of root races are the Third, Fourth and Fifth Race mentioned above, termed Lemurian, Atlantean and Aryan respectively, all with the necessary reservations. Sub-races are indicated with the letter B, even smaller groupings with the letter C. We can see that in this diagram, evolutionary entities are all connected, and develop from each other. They evolve from one strand, but form their individual niches, showing both viewpoints, of polygenism and monogenism, in one diagram.

HPB refers to the work of Jean Armand de Quatrefage (1810-1892), a well-known monogenist of her day, when arguing that humanity has developed from one stock and that new races are formed by race mixing. (SD II, 444) Further she argues that the root races “overlap with several hundreds of millenniums”. (SD II, 445) In her view, evolutionary entities do not only die out by extinction of all individuals, physically disappearing without a trace, but, apparently in other cases, carry over their evolutionary heritage to the next entity during an overlapping period of genetic mixing. This is all of course only a theory from the perspective of the physical development of man, while HPB advocates also a spiritual development in relation to the former. In that respect her view is fundamentally different from that of her contemporary, Charles Darwin.

The Fourth Sub-race of the Fourth Race

In only one location in the SD, namely in I, 319, we find the word Turanian associated with the fourth sub-race of the Fourth Race:

[…] from the commingling of the 4th and 5th sub-races (the Mongolo-Turanian and the Indo-European, so-called, after the sinking of the great Continent) […]

It may be noted that in later theosophical writings, the 4th sub-race is called Turanian and the 6th sub-race is called Mongolian, for instance in William Scott-Elliot (The Story of Atlantis, 1896), Annie Besant (The Pedigree of Man, 1904), Annie Besant and Charles W. Leadbeater (Man, Whence, How and Whither, 1913), and in the works of Rudolf Steiner. Gottfried de Purucker has a different view on the fourth sub-race, apparently keeping closer to the text of the SD, calling it the Mongolian sub-race.


HPB accepts the idea that the Turanian peoples as defined by Max Müller are indeed an evolutionary entity, having a common culture and religion, be it with ample reservation. The current Turanian peoples are seen as descendants of the Fourth Race, and are associated with its fourth sub-race. As the Chinese peoples have descended from the Third Race, they do not fall under the heading of Turanians proper. The Chinese language is a monosyllabic (isolating) language and as such it does not fit the profile of a Turanian language. According to the SD, the Turanian languages are the result of an essential development taking place during the Fourth, Atlantean, Race. The Turanian languages are defined as the agglutinative languages, which are primarily the Altai and Uralic language groups. The Turanian peoples are seen as the evolutionary entities communicating by means of these languages. ■

© 2023 Ingmar de Boer, published in The Netherlands

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Primordial Darkness in Original Sāṃkhya

By David Reigle on December 26, 2022 at 4:25 am

            The Sāṃkhya teachings are regarded in Indian tradition as the oldest system of philosophical thought, the original worldview, darśana, and their promulgator, Kapila, is regarded as the first knower, ādi-vidvān. Kapila, using an emanated mind, nirmāṇa-citta, gave the teachings to his pupil, Āsuri, who in turn gave them to his pupil, Pañcaśikha. Pañcaśikha then systematized the teachings, referred to as tantra, into sixty topics, and wrote them down in a book, the Ṣaṣṭi-tantra, the “Sixty Topics of the Teachings.” This book is long lost, but a small number of fragments from it have been quoted in other early books. One of these fragments, very little known, speaks of primordial darkness, tamas, just like the famous Ṛg-veda hymn 10.129 does, and just like the “Book of Dzyan” does.

            The Sanskrit fragments attributed to Pañcaśikha were first collected by Fitz-Edward Hall in his Preface to his 1862 edition of the Sānkhya-Sāra (pp. 21-25, footnotes). He found twelve of these in Vyāsa’s Yoga-sūtra-bhāṣya that were specifically attributed to Pañcaśikha by the sub-commentators Vācaspati Miśra, Vijñāna Bhikṣu, or Nāgojī Bhaṭṭa. These twelve were then translated into German by Richard Garbe in an 1893 article, to which he added a reference to another fragment quoted in Vijñāna Bhikṣu’s commentary on Sāṃkhya-sūtra 1.127. Nine more from the Yoga-sūtra-bhāṣya were added to these twelve in a 1912 publication by Rāja Rāma, making twenty-one. However, these nine are not attributed to Pañcaśikha by any classical writer. Other than one attributed to Vārṣagaṇya, their authorship is unknown. Similarly, Hariharānanda Āraṇya also added nine more from the Yoga-sūtra-bhāṣya to these twelve, one of which, a Vedic fragment, is not among the nine added by Rāja Rāma. Nandalal Sinha published all twenty-two of these as an appendix in his 1915 book, The Samkhya Philosophy, noting that beyond the first twelve, “we do not feel we should be justified in affiliating these aphorisms to Pañchaśikha” (p.18). Additional fragments from three commentaries on the Sāṃkhya-kārikā, namely, the Yukti-dīpikā, the Māṭhara-vṛtti, and the Gauḍapāda-bhāṣya, were collected by Udayavīra Śāstri and published in his 1950 Hindi book, Sāṃkhyadarśana kā Itihāsa. These, along with twenty-one fragments from the Yoga-sūtra-bhāṣya accepted by previous writers, were given in a list of thirty-six fragments by Janārdanaśāstri Pāndeya in his 1989 Sanskrit book, Sāṃkhyadarṣanam. It is only these last two sources that include the fragment on primordial darkness, tamas.1

            The Sāṃkhya-kārikā purports to summarize the Ṣaṣṭi-tantra in a mere seventy verses. There are five very old commentaries on the Sāṃkhya-kārikā. These are the Gauḍapāda-bhāṣya, first published in 1837, the Māṭhara-vṛtti, first published in 1922, the Sāṃkhya-saptati-vṛtti, published in 1973, the Sāṃkhya-vṛtti, published in 1973, and the Suvarṇa-saptati-vyākhyā, whose French translation was published in 1904.2 The Suvarṇa-saptati-vyākhyā is not available in its original Sanskrit, but only in its Chinese translation made in the sixth century C.E. by Paramārtha and found in the Chinese Tripiṭaka. These five commentaries are so similar that they led to much discussion as to which copied which. However, the more obvious answer is that they all drew upon the now lost Ṣaṣṭi-tantra in their explanations of the Sāṃkhya-kārikā, which purports to summarize the Ṣaṣṭi-tantra. Three of these give the fragment on primordial darkness, tamas, in their commentary on verse 70. These are the Māṭhara-vṛtti, the Sāṃkhya-saptati-vṛtti, and the Suvarṇa-saptati-vyākhyā. The Gauḍapāda-bhāṣya ends at verse 69, so does not comment on verse 70, and the Sāṃkhya-vṛtti manuscript omits many lines through scribal error, so probably had the fragment on primordial darkness. Another commentary on the Sāṃkhya-kārikā, of unknown age, is the Jaya-maṅgala, which was first published in 1926. It, too, gives the fragment on primordial darkness. This fragment is attributed to the Ṣaṣṭi-tantra written by Pañcaśikha. Both the Suvarṇa-saptati-vyākhyā and the Jaya-maṅgala attribute this quote directly to Kapila, the founder of the Sāṃkhya teachings, who taught it to Āsuri, who in turn taught it to Pañcaśikha, who wrote it down in the Ṣaṣṭi-tantra. The Māṭhara-vṛtti and the Sāṃkhya-saptati-vṛtti give this quote to define the teaching, tantra, the Sāṃkhya teaching of Kapila that Pañcaśikha elaborated in the sixty topics of the Ṣaṣṭi-tantra.

Sāṃkhya-kārikā, verses 69-70:

puruṣārtha-jñānam idaṃ guhyaṃ paramarṣiṇā samākhyātam |
sthity-utpatti-pralayāś cintyante yatra bhūtānām || 69 ||

“This secret knowledge of the purpose of the puruṣa, in which the abiding, arising, and dissolution of beings is described, was fully made known by the great seer [Kapila].

etat pavitryam agryaṃ munir āsuraye ‘nukampayā pradadau |
āsurir api pañcaśikhāya tena ca bahulīkṛtaṃ tantram || 70 ||

“This purifying foremost [knowledge] the muni [Kapila] out of compassion gave to Āsuri. Āsuri in turn [gave it] to Pañcaśikha, and by him the teaching was made extensive.”

The Pañcaśikha quote as found in the Māthara-vṛtti commentary on verse 70 (1922, p. 83):

tama eva khalv idam agra āsīt | tasmiṃs tamasi kṣetrajño ‘bhivartate prathamam |

The Pañcaśikha quote as found in the Sāṃkhya-saptati-vṛtti commentary on verse 70 (1973, p. 79):

tamaiva khalv idam agryam āsīt | tasmin tamasi kṣetrajñaḥ prathamo ‘sya[bhya]vartata iti |

The Pañcaśikha quote as found in the Jaya-maṅgala commentary on verse 70 (1926, p. 68):

tama eva khalv idam āsīt | tasmiṃs tamasi kṣetrajña eva prathamaḥ |

The Pañcaśikha quote as found in the Suvara-saptati-vyākhyā commentary on verse 70, as re-translated into Sanskrit from Chinese by N. Aiyaswami Sastri (1944, p. 98):

tama eva khalv idam agra āsīt | tasmin tamasi kṣetrajño ‘vartata |

Translation of the Pañcaśikha quote:

“In the beginning (agre) this (idam) was (āsīt) darkness (tamas) alone (eva). In that (tasmin) darkness (tamasi ) the knower of the field (kṣetrajña) arose (abhivartate, abhyavartata, avartata) first (prathama).”

Compare “Book of Dzyan,” stanza 1, verse 5:

“Darkness alone filled the boundless all, . . .”;

Compare Ṛg-veda hymn 10.129, verse 3a:

táma āsīt támasā gūḷhám ágre

“Darkness was hidden by darkness in the beginning.”

The comments on the Pañcaśikha quote from the Sāṃkhya commentaries:

tama iti ucyate prakṛtiḥ, puruṣaḥ kṣetrajñaḥ | 

tama iti ucyate prakṛtiḥ | kṣetrajñaḥ puruṣaḥ | 

“Darkness is called prakṛti; the knower of the field is puruṣa.” (Māṭhara-vṛtti and Sāṃkhya-saptati-vṛtti ).

tamaḥ pradhānam, kṣetrajñaḥ puruṣa ucyate |

“Darkness is pradhāna. The knower of the field is called puruṣa.” (Jayamaṅgala).

kṣetrajñaḥ puruṣaḥ | 

“The knower of the field is puruṣa.” (Suvara-saptati-vyākhyā).

            In the standard accounts of Sāṃkhya there is no mention of the idea that the “knower of the field,” i.e., puruṣa, “spirit,” arose in primordial “darkness,” i.e., pradhāna or prakṛti, “primary substance.” Such a teaching is quite absent in the standard Sāṃkhya teachings. On the contrary, pradhāna or prakṛti is routinely subordinated to puruṣa; put crudely, matter is subordinated to spirit. In the great Vedānta teachings, which completely eclipsed the Sāṃkhya teachings in India, the absolute brahman is defined as “pure consciousness” or “only consciousness” (cin-mātra). Indeed, Śaṅkarācārya in his most definitive work, his Brahma-sūtra-bhāṣya, takes Sāṃkhya as his primary opponent, and refutes it on the basis of the premise that the absolute cannot be unconscious, as pradhāna or prakṛti is.

            The original Sāṃkhya teaching found in this Pañcaśikha quote, of a primordial darkness in which the conscious puruṣa arose, but which itself is not conscious, finds an exact parallel in the Theosophical teaching of a primordial darkness, in which during pralaya, the night of the universe, “life pulsated unconscious” (“Book of Dzyan,” stanza 1, verse 8).3


1. The writers who gathered these fragments assumed that Pañcaśikha wrote the Ṣaṣṭi-tantra, in accordance with what is said in the Sāṃkhya-kārika, verses 70-72, and the commentaries thereon. However, other fragments from the Ṣaṣṭi-tantra are attributed to Vṛṣagaṇa or Vārṣagaṇya. This has led researchers such as G. Oberhammer to conclude that all of the fragments attributed to Pañcaśikha are actually from the Ṣaṣṭi-tantra written by Vṛṣagaṇa. See his 1960 article, “The Authorship of the Ṣaṣṭitantram.” Of course, this does not rule out the possibility of an original Ṣaṣṭi-tantra written by Pañcaśikha, and another later one written by Vṛṣagaṇa. Perhaps most of the known fragments do indeed come from the one written by Vṛṣagaṇa, since in most cases the authorities attributing them to Pañcaśikha are not ancient. In the case of the fragment on primordial darkness, however, we have four old authorities agreeing that it comes from the Ṣaṣṭi-tantra written by Pañcaśikha. For examples of the fragments from the Ṣaṣṭi-tantra that are in some cases attributed to Vṛṣagaṇa or Vārṣagaṇya, see the 1999 article by Ernst Steinkellner, “The Ṣaṣṭitantra on Perception, a Collection of Fragments.” These were elaborated in his 2017 book, Early Indian Epistemology and Logic: Fragments from Jinendrabuddhi’s Pramāṇasamuccayaṭīkā 1 and 2.

2. All these books are posted here with the Sanskrit Hindu Texts, including a 1932 English translation of the 1904 French translation of the Suvarṇa-saptati-vyākhyā, as well as a 1944 re-translation of it back into Sanskrit directly from the early Chinese translation.

3. In the commentary preceding this Pañcaśikha quote, the Suvara-saptati-vyākhyā says that this secret knowledge taught by Kapila was established before the four Vedas arose. The Theosophical teachings, too, say about its secret doctrine “that its teachings antedate the Vedas.” (The Secret Doctrine, vol. 1, p. xxxvii).

Category: Darkness, Uncategorized | 1 comment


The Passing Down of Important Knowledge

By Robert Hütwohl on August 1, 2022 at 10:18 pm

David, thank you for culling together a considerable amount of valuable Buddhist material.

No other collection of sources in the world’s literature can come close to the Buddhist, for such a rich array of oral tradition. And, the congruence of Buddhism and Theosophy, especially with the issue of self versus Self should be all the more reason to pursue this direction, for it teaches us that the Dweller at the Threshold is our lower self, which must be snuffed out, as another Buddhist textbook, the Voice of the Silence, proclaims.

These Buddhist records would indicate previous accounts going back over periods of what can only be described as a historicity of previous Buddhas, i.e., a primitive Buddhism tradition, which would have attracted a reason for such record-keeping in the first place. Buddhist statements within that line indicate there were previous Buddhas and Bodhisattvas and that would indicate, from a theosophical standpoint, previous root-races of civilizations going back probably millions of years.

It is safe to say, much has probably been lost to us from the past. Probably equal to if not second best would be the Hermetic or Trismegistic material. Statements handed down to us from ancient historians state the Hermetic literature was vast indeed but looking at what has come down to us is paltry to what we should have. The interventions of early Christian writers and recorders did not help maintain that literature, due to their intervention of their own anthropomorphic rewrites which would tend to beg the question whether certain material was Hermetic at all and may have, due to that fact, been ignored or thrown out. The vast amount of Greek and Roman literature having been destroyed, much of it probably due to the Libraries at Alexandria, Egypt would lay bear the fact that certain parts of humanity do not care much about preserving past literary output.

Perhaps the Hindu purāṇas would be a third best, however due to the obvious rearrangement of that literature and its metaphorical and allegorical tellings, no doubt clearly mixed with historical indications, it will take a team of dedicated researchers an extensive period of time to sort it all out, reserved for the future. I believe all the purāṇas came down to us from one very large mahāpurāṇa. But, the time for sorting out the purāṇic conundrum is long past.

One thing is clear, based on the Buddhist oral traditions: We are dealing with the passing down through the ages by observers, indications of inspection from the past, millions of years ago and long before paleontological science has given us any hint of it. Dig deeper!

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The Separation of the Sexes

By David Reigle on July 31, 2022 at 10:47 pm

            The separation of the sexes is a distinctive teaching of the Book of Dzyan on anthropogenesis. It is said to have occurred millions of years ago, in the third root-race. Stanza 7, verse 22, as given in The Secret Doctrine, says: “. . . First male-female, then man and woman.” Stanza 8, verse 31: “The animals separated the first. They began to breed. The two-fold man separated also. He said: ‘Let us as they; let us unite and make creatures.’ They did.”

            Such an idea is completely foreign to modern thought, whether scientific, historical, or anthropological. It is also completely foreign to Christian religious thought. However, it is fully orthodox in Buddhist religious thought. Buddhism has not much concerned itself with cosmogony and anthropogony, so there are comparatively few Buddhist texts on these subjects. The ones we have, fortunately, are consistent with each other on these teachings. These teachings were given by the Buddha himself, not by some later Buddhist teacher, so they are authoritative for all schools of Buddhism. The texts quoted below come from several different schools of Buddhism.

            The Buddhist texts say that humanity descended from higher realms, from various “heavens,” rather than evolved from apes as modern anthropology posits. So humans were more ethereal then, and slowly became more dense as they started to eat, and what they ate also became more and more dense. At one stage of this process of densification the separation of the sexes occurred.

            Thus the Pāli Aggañña-sutta from the Theravāda school of Buddhism, called by its first translators the Buddhist book of Genesis, says (translated by Maurice Walshe):

“And these beings set to and fed on this rice, and this lasted for a very long time. And as they did so, their bodies became coarser still, and the difference in their looks became even greater. And the females developed female sex-organs, and the males developed male organs.”1

            The Sanskrit *Loka-prajñapti-sūtra from the Dharmaguptaka school of Buddhism, found in the Dīrghāgama collection as preserved in its Chinese translation, says (translated by Shohei Ichimura):

“So the sentient beings began to harvest the new form of rice and subsist on it. Then their physical forms became coarse and crude, with the advent of male and female sexual organs.”2

            The Mahā-vastu from the Lokottaravādin branch of the Mahāsāṅghika school of Buddhism, found in their Vinaya collection, says (translated by J. J. Jones):

“Then, monks, after the disappearance of the creeping-plant, those beings lived on a very long time feeding on the rice which was without powder or husk, but was just fragrant grain. And from the time that they did so, the distinguishing characteristics of female and male appeared among them.”3

            The three preceding sources are traditionally regarded as giving the words of the Buddha. The following three sources give this teaching as presented by later Buddhist writers.

            The Abhidharma-kośa-bhāṣya, giving the teachings of the Sarvāstivāda school of Buddhism as summarized by Vasubandhu, says (translated by Louis de La Vallee Poussin and Lodrö Sangpo):4

“These creepers disappeared and then fields of huskless rice [śāli ] grew, uncultivated and unplanted: this rice, a coarse sustenance, produced waste: sentient beings then developed organs of excretion and sexual organs; they then took different forms.”

            The Yogācāra-bhūmi, giving the teachings of the Yogācāra school of Buddhism compiled by Maitreya (so Chinese tradition) or Asaṅga (so Tibetan tradition), says (translated by Yūichi Kajiyama):5

“Then, they gaze at each other eye to eye, and they become enamored. Then, because of their karma conducive to either femaleness or maleness, some of them acquire female organs and others male organs, and they transgress by means of copulation (dvaya-dvaya-samāpatti).”

            The Mahā-saṃvartanī-kathā, giving the teachings of the Sāṃmatīya school of Buddhism as put into verse form by Sarva-rakṣita, says (summarized by its editor, Kiyoshi Okano):6

“3.1.8 As people continuously ate rice, the male organ and female organ appeared in their bodies. The difference between men and women arose for the first time.”

            There are a number of other Buddhist texts that give this teaching, but these should suffice to show that it is a standard and fully orthodox Buddhist teaching found throughout Buddhism.


1. The Long Discourses of the Buddha, p. 411. Boston: Wisdom Publications,1987. Maurice Walshe adds a note after the phrase “the females developed female sex-organs”: “As noted above, these beings were previously sexless. DA says ‘those who were women in a previous life.’” DA stands for the Dīgha Nikāya commentary by Buddhaghosa. The Aggañña-sutta is found in the Dīgha Nikāya, Pali Text Society edition, Vol. III, this passage on p. 88. The first translators of this text were T. W. and C. A. F. Rhys Davids, in Dialogues of the Buddha, Part III, 1921, this passage on p. 85.

2. The Canonical Book of the Buddha’s Lengthy Discourses, Volume III, p. 297. BDK America, 2018.

3. The Mahāvastu, Volume I, p. 288. London: Luzac & Company, 1949.

4. Abhidharmakośa-Bhāṣya of Vasubandhu, Volume II, p. 1106. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass, 2012. The 1988 translation by Poussin and Leo M. Pruden reads (Volume II, p. 488): “This creeper disappeared and then rice grew, unworked and unseeded: this rice, a coarse food, gave forth waste: beings then developed organs of excretion and sexual organs; they then took different forms.”

5. “Buddhist Cosmology as Presented in the Yogācārabhūmi,” in Wisdom, Compassion, and the Search for Understanding, ed. Jonathan A. Silk, p. 196. Honolulu: University of Hawai‘i Press, 2000.

6. “A Summary of the Mahāsaṃvartanīkathā,” in Pāsādikadānaṁ: Festschrift für Bhikkhu Pāsādika, ed. Martin Straube, et al., p. 329. Marburg: Indica et Tibetica Verlag, 2009.

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“dharmakāya ceased” part 2

By David Reigle on November 30, 2021 at 8:39 pm

There was some controversy over whether there are three or four buddha-bodies. This question revolves primarily around the interpretation of the eighth chapter of Maitreya’s Abhisamayālaṃkāra, titled “Dharma-kāya.” The oldest available commentary, by Ārya Vimuktisena, understands this chapter to teach three kāyas, while the somewhat later commentary by Haribhadra understands this chapter to teach four kāyas. The svābhāvika-kāya spoken of in verse 1 of chapter 8 is understood by Ārya Vimuktisena to just be the dharma-kāya, simply another name for it. Haribhadra understands the svābhāvika-kāya to be distinct from the dharma-kāya, which latter he then designates as the jñānātmaka dharma-kāya, the dharma body consisting of wisdom (jñāna). He takes the svābhāvika-kāya to be the true nature (dharmatā) or emptiness (śūnyatā) of the wisdom attributes (jñāna-dharma) that the jñānātmaka dharma-kāya consists of. In accordance with this, the svābhāvika-kāya could never cease, while the jñānātmaka dharma-kāya could.

The dharma-kāya, whether understood as the svābhāvika-kāya or as the jñānātmaka dharma-kāya, is said in Abhisamayālaṃkāra 8.2-6 to consist of the many attributes (dharmas) of a buddha that pertain to a buddha’s unique wisdom (jñāna), such as the supernormal knowledges (abhijñā), the analytical knowledges (pratisaṃvid), the ten powers (daśa-bala), etc. Could these ever cease? Verse 8.8 says that a buddha’s wisdom from aspiration (praṇidhi-jñānam) always remains (sadā sthitam), and verse 8.11 says that a buddha is [all-]pervading (vyāpī) and permanent (nitya). Then comes a description of a buddha’s sambhoga-kāya or enjoyment body, verses 8.12-8.32, followed by a verse on a buddha’s nirmāṇa-kāya or emanation body, 8.33. This verse says that the nirmāṇa-kāya is the body that acts for the benefit of the world without interruption as long as worldly existence lasts (ā bhavāt). The first half of the next verse, 8.34, says that so also its activity (tathā karmâpi) [goes on] without interruption as long as cyclic existence lasts (ā saṃsāram). Ārya Vimuktisena takes “its” (asya) as referring the nirmāṇa-kāya from the preceding verse, while Haribhadra takes “its” as referring to the jñānātmaka dharma-kāya, which was described in verses 8.2-8.11. The remaining verses of the chapter, from the second half of verse 8.34 to verse 8.40, describe the twenty-seven kinds of activity of the dharma-kāya.

For Haribhadra it is the jñānātmaka dharma-kāya and its activity that lasts as long as does cyclic existence, while for Ārya Vimuktisena it is the nirmāṇa-kāya and its activity that lasts as long as does cyclic existence. We would expect the nirmāṇa-kāya or emanation body to last only until the end of the cycle of existence, as understood by Ārya Vimuktisena. Haribhadra’s understanding that the jñānātmaka dharma-kāya is what lasts only that long is based on taking “permanent” (nitya) from verse 8.11 to mean only “as long as cyclic existence lasts” (ā saṃsāram) from verse 8.34. In his commentary on 8.11, in the section of the Abhisamayālaṃkāra on the dharma-kāya where a buddha is described as being “permanent” (nitya), he explains “permanent” as: “because, existing as a continuous series for as long as cyclic existence lasts, a Blessed One does not perish” (prabandhatayâ saṃsāram avasthānena/avasthāne ca bhagavataḥ kṣayâbhāvād). Then in his commentary on 8.34, the verse in which the phrase “as long as cyclic existence lasts” (ā saṃsāram) occurs, he confirms that this applies to the dharma-kāya: “thus, like the dharma-kāya [itself], its twenty-seven-fold activity lasts as long as does cyclic existence (evaṃ dharmakāyavad asyâ saṃsāraṃ saptaviṃśati-prakāraṃ karma). For him, this is the jñānātmaka dharma-kāya, because its activity occurs on the level of conventional truth. It is the svābhāvika-kāya that describes ultimate truth.

Haribhadra’s interpretation and his four-body scheme were adopted in Tibet by the Gelugpas, while Ārya Vimuktsena’s interpretation and his three-body scheme were adopted by the Sakyapas. Tsong kha pa in his extensive commentary on the Abhisamayālaṃkāra, published in English translation as Golden Garland of Eloquence, defends Haribhadra’s interpretation of this against Ārya Vimuktisena’s. This idea might provide some support for the statement that “dharma-kāya ceased,” although I have not yet found such a statement in the Buddhist writings.

Note on sources:

John Makransky’s book, Buddhahood Embodied, is quite the most detailed study of this issue. Since his book was published in 1997, a complete English translation by Gareth Sparham of both Ārya Vimuktisena’s commentary and Haribhadra’s commentary on the Abhisamayālaṃkāra has been published in four volumes, 2006-2012: Abhisamayālaṃkāra with Vṛtti and Ālokā. In an additional four volumes, 2008-2013, Gareth Sparham has translated Tsong kha pa’s commentary on the Abhisamayālaṃkāra, titled Golden Garland of Eloquence, in which Tsong kha pa explains why he accepted Haribhadra’s view over Ārya Vimuktisena’s. Another English translation of most of Tsong kha pa’s commentary is found in Groundless Paths, a translation by Karl Brunnholzl of Patrul Rinpoche’s two commentaries on the Abhisamayālaṃkāra, which commentaries consist entirely of literal or abridged passages from Tsong kha pa’s Golden Garland. Makransky translated the relevant material in his book, and gave plenty of context. Nonetheless, we can now see these commentary passages in the full texts that they are found in.

The references to the Sanskrit text of Haribhadra’s Āloka commentary on the Abhisamayālaṃkāra, as noted by Makransky (p. 399, note 46), are p. 918, line 11, and p. 925, lines 3-4, of Unrai Wogihara’s edition, vol. 2, which I have posted here: http://www.downloads.prajnaquest.fr/BookofDzyan/Sanskrit%20Buddhist%20Texts/abhisamayalamkara_aloka_vol_2_1935.pdf.

My translations given above are from these. The first of these is commenting on 8.11, and the second of these is commenting on 8.34. In the shorter Vivṛti commentary by Haribhadra, the first of these references is found on p. 108, line 1, of Koei H. Amano’s 2000 edition, Abhisamayālaṃkāra-kārikā-śāstra-vivṛti. It has the reading avasthāne, Tibetan bzhugs kyang, for avasthānena, agreeing with Wogihara’s variant from the Calcutta manuscript of the Āloka. The second of these references is found on pp. 114-115, having somewhat different wording.

The first of these references, commenting on 8.11, is found in Sparham’s translation of Haribhadra’s Āloka on p. 254 of vol. 4. The second of these references, commenting on 8.34, is found in Sparham’s translation on p. 264 of vol. 4. Ārya Vimuktisena’s comments on these verses are found in Sparham’s translation on pp. 83 and 97-98, respectively, of vol. 4.

Tsong kha pa’s commentary on 8.11 is found in Sparham’s translation of Golden Garland, p. 194 of vol. 4, and his commentary on 8.34 is found in Sparham’s translation, p. 225 of vol. 4.

From part 1, for the reference to the original Sanskrit of the Kāya-traya-stotra, it is quoted in the Sekoddeśa-ṭīkā, Mario E. Carelli edition, 1941, pp. 57-58, and Francesco Sferra edition, 2006, p. 171.

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“dharmakāya ceased”

By David Reigle on October 25, 2021 at 4:31 am

In the sample translation of verse 1 of the Book of Dzyan given by H. P. Blavatsky when retaining the foreign technical terms (The Secret Doctrine, vol. 1, p. 23), we find the phrase, “Dharmakaya ceased.” This is a highly unusual idea in Buddhism, as noted by Michael Lewis and reported by Ken Small. The dharma-kāya, “dharma body” or “body of dharmas,” is a kind of ultimate in Buddhism, and we would not expect it to ever “cease.” An authoritative description of it is given in the first verse of the Kāya-traya-stotra, “Praise of the Three Bodies,” attributed to Nāgārjuna. Here is the original Sanskrit and my English translation:

yo naiko nāpy anekaḥ sva-para-hita-mahā-sampad-ādhāra-bhūto

naivābhāvo na bhāvaḥ kham iva sama-raso durvibhāvya-svabhāvaḥ |

nirlepaṃ nirvikāraṃ śivam asama-samaṃ vyāpinaṃ niṣprapañcaṃ

vande pratyātma-vedyaṃ tam aham anupamaṃ dharma-kāyaṃ jinānām ||

“What is not one and not many, is the great basis of perfect benefit for self and others, is not non-existent and not existent, is of the same taste like space, whose nature is hard to be realized, is stainless, is immutable, is quiescent, is equal to the unequaled, is [all-]pervading, is without diversification, is [only] to be known inwardly, I praise that incomparable dharma-kāya of the victors.”

So could such a thing ever cease? From the descriptions and usages of it throughout the Buddhist texts, we would think not. There is, however, a Buddhist text that speaks of the dharma-kāya coming into being or arising, which of course implies that it would also cease. The Kālacakra-tantra says that the dharma-kāya comes into being or arises from the śuddha-kāya (chap. 4, verse 107: śrī-śuddhād dharma-kāyo bhavati), or from the sahaja-kāya (chap. 5, verse 89: sahaja-tanur iyaṃ dharma-kāyo babhūva), or in the closely related Hevajra-piṇḍārtha-ṭīkā, from the svābhāvika-kāya (chap. 3, verse 22: svābhāvikāt bhavet dharma). The svābhāvika-kāya or sahaja-kāya or śuddha-kāya are all synonyms for the fourth body in the four-body scheme, as opposed to the more common three-body scheme. From this fourth body comes the dharma-kāya, the third body. From this body comes the sambhoga-kāya, the second body, and from this body comes the nirmāṇa-kāya, the first body.

This teaching may perhaps find some warrant in the Ratna-gotra-vibhāga, which teaches that the dharma-kāya is twofold (chap. 1, verse 145): the completely pure (sunirmala) dharma-dhātu, and its natural outcome (tan-niṣyanda). The first is only in the range of nonconceptual wisdom (avikalpa-jñāna-gocara-viṣaya) and pertains to the dharma to be realized inwardly (pratyātmam adhigama-dharmam). The second is the cause for attaining that (tat-prāpti-hetu) first kind of dharma-kāya, which cause is the teaching (deśanā) whose methods (naya) are deep (gāmbhīrya) and varied (vaicitrya). Although the Ratna-gotra-vibhāga does not describe the second kind of dharma-kāya as coming into being or arising, that it is described as the natural outcome (niṣyanda) of the first kind would fit in with the Kālacakra-tantra’s teaching of its coming into being or arising. Of course, what comes into being or arises must cease.

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By David Reigle on October 14, 2021 at 1:57 am

This is part of an ongoing glossary of terms relating to the Book of Dzyan.

The term parinirvāṇa, sometimes incorrectly spelled paranirvāṇa in Theosophical writings, is widely used to describe the final nirvāṇa that Gautama Buddha achieved upon his death. It forms the title of scriptures in both Pali and Sanskrit that describe the events around his passing away: Mahā-paribbāna-sutta and Mahā-parinirvāṇa-sūtra (different from the Mahāyāna Mahā-parinirvāṇa-sūtra). He is regarded as having achieved nirvāṇa under the bodhi-tree many years before his passing away. For the many years that he taught after achieving enlightenment (bodhi) or nirvāṇa, it could not be said that he had entered full or complete nirvāṇa. So two kinds of nirvāṇa were distinguished in the Buddhist texts: sopadhi-śeṣa-nirvāṇa, nirvāṇa with the remainder (śeṣa) of the personal existence (upadhi), and anupadhi-śeṣa-nirvāṇa or nirupadhi-śeṣa-nirvāṇa, nirvāṇa without the remainder of the personal existence or body. The latter is what is called parinirvāṇa, the full or complete nirvāṇa that can only occur when the body passes away.

            Grammatical note: The prefix pari, here meaning full or complete, was added to nirvāṇa to make this distinction. The word is not para-nirvāṇa. Even if it was, it could not mean beyond nirvāṇa, as sometimes understood in Theosophical writings. The reason for this can be seen in the explanation of why para-brahman cannot mean beyond brahman or Brahmā, found in the entry on para-brahman.

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By David Reigle on April 26, 2021 at 3:19 am

This is part of an ongoing glossary of terms relating to the Book of Dzyan.

The term ākāśa, now usually translated as “space,” has been understood in quite different ways in the Sanskrit texts. Its meanings range from the “sky,” to the fifth element “ether,” to a near ultimate cosmic principle, to nothing more than empty space. It occurs in the Book of Dzyan as “a shoreless sea of fire” (stanza 3, verse 7), where it is a near ultimate cosmic principle. It cannot be the ultimate cosmic principle termed “space” in the esoteric Senzar Catechism or Occult Catechism, because ākāśa is described as a radiation from this source.1 The various meanings of ākāśa found in various Indian systems of thought will first be given in brief, and then in more detail.

In common everyday usage, ākāśa typically refers to the “sky.” In somewhat more technical usage, ākāśa may refer to “ether” as the fifth of the five elements (earth, water, fire, air, and ether), much like the ether posited by science until it was largely disproved by the Michelson-Morley experiment of 1887. As the fifth element, ākāśa is often joined with a word for “element,” bhūta or dhātu. Thus, bhūtākāśa, the element ākāśa, or ākāśa-dhātu, the ākāśa element. As a near ultimate cosmic principle, ākāśa may refer to the first thing to emanate from the ultimate cosmic principle, such as in the non-dualistic Hindu Advaita Vedānta system. Or it may refer to a near ultimate cosmic principle that did not emanate from anything, but is one among other eternal cosmic principles, such as in the pluralistic Hindu Vaiśeṣika system. As neither an element nor as a near ultimate cosmic principle, ākāśa may refer only to empty space, such as in the Buddhist Madhyamaka system.

In the Book of Dzyan as reported by H. P. Blavatsky in The Secret Doctrine, ākāśa is a near ultimate cosmic principle that is the first thing to emanate from the ultimate cosmic principle. It is “the radiation of Mūlaprakṛiti” (The Secret Doctrine, vol. 1, p. 10), which is “pre-cosmic root substance,” “that aspect of the Absolute which underlies all the objective planes of Nature” (S.D. 1.15). Book of Dzyan, stanza 3, verse 7: “Bright Space Son of Dark Space . . . turns the upper into a shoreless sea of fire.”2 Commentary: “The ‘Sea of Fire’ is then the Super-Astral (i.e., noumenal) Light, the first radiation from the Root, the Mūlaprakṛiti, the undifferentiated Cosmic Substance, which becomes Astral Matter” (S.D. 1.75). “Mūlaprakṛiti, . . . the primordial substance, . . . is the source from which Ākāśa radiates” (S.D. 1.35). It is defined by Blavatsky: “Ākāśa—the astral light—can be defined in a few words; it is the Universal Soul, the Matrix of the Universe, the ‘Mysterium Magnum’ from which all that exists is born by separation or differentiation. It is the cause of existence; it fills all the infinite Space; is Space itself, in one sense, or both its Sixth and Seventh principles” (SD 2.511-512).” Thus, as summarized by Blavatsky: “The whole range of physical phenomena proceeds from the Primary of Ether—Ākāśa, as dual-natured Ākāśa proceeds from undifferentiated Chaos, so-called, the latter being the primary aspect of Mūlaprakṛiti, the root-matter and the first abstract Idea one can form of Parabrahman” (S.D. 1.536).

In the Hindu Vedānta system, ākāśa is a near ultimate cosmic principle that is the first thing to emanate from the ultimate cosmic principle, brahman, the ultimate reality. All schools of Vedānta are based on the Upaniṣads. The Taittirīya Upaniṣad 2.1.1 says: “From that [brahman], verily, from this self [ātman], ākāśa arose; from ākāśa, air; from air, fire; from fire, water; from water, earth; from earth, plants, from plants, food; from food, the person” (brahma . . . tasmād vā etasmād ātmana ākāśaḥ sambhūtaḥ | ākāśād vāyuḥ | vāyor agniḥ | agner āpaḥ | adbhyaḥ pṛthivī | pṛthivyā oṣadhayaḥ | oṣadhībhyo annam | annāt puruṣaḥ). Yet there are passages in the Vedas and Upaniṣads in which ākāśa (or the sometimes synonymous vyoman) is used to designate brahman, the ultimate reality. Thus, the next most authoritative Vedānta text, the Brahma-sūtras, says that brahman is ākāśā (1.1.22), followed by saying that brahman is prāṇa (1.1.23), and brahman is jyotis, “light” (1.1.24), the commentators adding that this ākāśā must be distinguished from ākāśa as an element (bhūta-ākāśa). However, this text is understood as saying only that this ākāśa is brahman in one sense. Since ākāśa describes an aspect of brahman it may be used to designate brahman. This is made clear where Taittirīya Upaniṣad 1.6.2 says “brahman whose body is ākāśa ” (ākāśa-śarīram brahma).

Advaita Vedānta is the non-dualistic school of Vedānta, teaching that brahman, the ultimate reality, and ātman, the self, are one. Its teachers agree with the Taittirīya Upaniṣad passage saying that from brahman, from ātman, arose ākāśa. Its founding father Śaṅkarācārya wrote a small treatise called Pañcīkaraṇa, on which his close disciple Sureśvara wrote a verse commentary (Vārttika), saying (verse 3) “from that [param brahman] arose ākāśa” (param brahma . . . tasmād ākāśam utpannam). In a non-dual system, nothing can actually arise from the one brahman as separate from it. So ākāśa arises only by way of the coming into play of māyā, the power of illusion or illusory appearance, a power possessed by brahman. In accordance with this, the later writer Vidyāraṇya in his classic Pañcadaśī wrote (chapter 13, verse 67): “The first modification [of māyā] is ākāśa” (māyāṃ . . . ādyo vikāra ākāśaḥ). In Advaita Vedānta, the whole universe is a māyā or illusory appearance superimposed on the one brahman. Nonetheless, in this sense, ākāśa is here understood as the first thing to emanate from brahman, the ultimate reality.

In the Hindu Vaiśeṣika system, ākāśa is a near ultimate cosmic principle that did not emanate from anything, but is one among other eternal cosmic principles. It is one of nine realities or ultimate substances (dravya): earth, water, fire, air, ākāśa, time (kāla), direction (dik), souls (ātman), and minds (manas) (Vaiśeṣika-sūtra 1.1.4 or 1.1.5).3 Like the other eight cosmic principles, ākāśa is eternal or permanent (nitya) (Vaiśeṣika-sūtra 2.1.28). It is unitary or one, not many (Vaiśeṣika-sūtra 2.1.29); that is, it does not consist of ultimate atoms (paramāṇu) as do the four elements, earth, water, fire, and air. Nonetheless, it is an element (bhūta), one of the five elements along with these four. It is all-pervading or omnipresent (Vaiśeṣika-sūtra 7.1.27 or 7.1.22). As such, ākāśa provides the medium in which the other four eternal elements in the pluralistic Vaiśeṣika system can combine to produce the visible cosmos.

In the Jaina system, ākāśa is a near ultimate cosmic principle that did not emanate from anything, but is one among other eternal cosmic principles. It is one of six realities or ultimate substances (dravya): souls (jīva), medium of motion (dharma), medium of rest (adharma), ākāśa, matter (pudgala), and time (kāla). These six cosmic principles are eternal. Here, ākāśa is not one of the elements, earth, water, fire, and air. Rather, it is the principle whose function is to provide room for or be a receptacle for (avagāha) the other five cosmic principles (Tattvārthādhigama-sūtra 5.18). As such, it is the “world-space” (loka-ākāśa). Beyond the world-space is “infinite space” (ananta-ākāśa), in which nothing exists (Pañcāstikāya-sāra, verses 97-103 or 90-96). Yet, as one of the six realities or ultimate substances or cosmic principles, ākāśa is real, something rather than nothing.

In the early Buddhist Abhidharma teachings as systematized by the Sarvāstivādins of Kashmir, called the Vaibhāṣikas, ākāśa is one of three uncompounded or unconditioned dharmas among the seventy-five dharmas that make up the cosmos. Besides uncompounded ākāśa, defined as anāvṛti, “that which does not obstruct” (Abhidharma-kośa 1.5d), there is the ākāśa element, ākāśa-dhātu, defined as a chidra, a “hole or cavity or delimited space” (Abhidharma-kośa 1.28a). The ākāśa element is not counted as a dharma, while the uncompounded ākāśa is. The dharmas are real or really existent (dravyasat), whether the seventy-two compounded (saskta) dharmas or the three uncompounded (asaskta) dharmas, since a single ultimate reality is not posited. As one of the three uncompounded or unconstructed dharmas, along with two kinds of cessation (nirodha), i.e., nirvāṇa, ākāśa was not produced by anything else. It is omnipresent (sarvagata) and eternal or permanent (nitya). To show that ākāśa is something real and not nothing more than empty space, as it was understood by their co-religionist Sautrāntikas, the Vaibhāṣika Sarvāstivādins cite what Gautama Buddha said to a Brahmin inquirer in this scriptural passage: “On what, Gautama sir, is earth supported? Earth, O Brahmin, is supported on the water disk. On what, Gautama sir, is the water disk supported? It is supported on air. On what, Gautama sir, is air supported? It is supported on ākāśa. On what, Gautama sir, is ākāśa supported? You go too far, great Brahmin; you go too far, great Brahmin. Akāśa, O Brahmin, is unsupported, is without a support.” (Abhidharma-kośa-vyākhyā on chapter 1, verse 5, at end).4 Moreover, they say that ākāśa is all that remains during the ages (kalpa) after the world is destroyed (Abhidharma-kośa-bhāṣya on chapter 3, verse 90). Thus, in the pluralistic Sarvāstivāda Abhidharma system, ākāśa is an uncompounded, eternal or permanent cosmic principle that did not emanate from anything, yet it is not the ultimate reality.

The distinction between ākāśa as an uncompounded dharma and ākāśa as an element is not always maintained, like it is in the Abhidharma-kośa. For example, the Pit-putra-samāgama-sūtra quoted in the Śikṣā-samuccaya (Bendall edition, p. 249) describes the ākāśa element (ākāśa-dhātu) as indestructible (akaya), stable (sthira), unmoving (acala), and like the uncompounded nirvāṇa element (asaskta nirvāṇa-dhātu), as all-pervading (sarvatra-anugata). This description is clearly of the uncompounded ākāśa, yet it is called the ākāśa element (ākāśa-dhātu). The reason for this is that the term dhātu, used in the Abhidharma-kośa and elsewhere to distinguish ākāśa as an element, is not co-extensive with the more specific term for the elements. The four elements, earth, water, fire, and air, are termed the “great elements” (mahā-bhūta). So it is possible for ākāśa to be a dhātu, yet not a mahā-bhūta. Here in the Pit-putra-samāgama-sūtra, even nirvāṇa is called a dhātu.

In the Mahāyāna Buddhist Yogācāra system, ākāśa is one of six or eight uncompounded or unconditioned dharmas among the hundred dharmas that make up the cosmos.5 As such, it is the same as the uncompounded ākāśa taught by the Sarvāstivadins, described above. That is, it is an uncompounded, eternal or permanent cosmic principle that did not emanate from anything, yet it is not the ultimate reality.

In the Mahāyāna Buddhist Madhyamaka system, ākāśa is the mere empty space that things are within and that is within things, such as the space in a room. The Madhyamaka system’s founding father Nāgārjuna says in his Ratnāvalī, chapter 1, verse 99ab: “Because it is merely the absence of form (rūpa), ākāśa is merely a name” (rūpasyâbhāva-mātratvād ākāśaṃ nāma-mātrakam).6 Nāgarjuna’s spiritual son Āryadeva in his Caryā-melāpaka-pradīpa tells us that ākāśa is not an element, and that its function is to provide room for all existing things (ākāśaṃ . . . na mahā-bhūtam . . . avakāśa-dānāt ākāśaṃ sarva-bhāvānām).7 Commenting on Āryadeva’s Catuḥ-śataka (chapter 9, verse 5), the Prāsaṅgika Madhyamaka writer Candrakīrti says that ākāśa is merely a name (nāmadheya-mātra) of something that does not really exist (avastusat), a nothing (akicana).8 Since Prāsaṅgika Madhyamaka is the prevailing view in Tibetan Buddhism, ākāśa is understood in the same way there. Tsong kha pa, founder of the dominant Gelugpa order, says in his Legs bshad gser phreng that ākāśa has no inherent nature (svabhāva) and describes it as “a mere representation of a mere absence of obstructive contact or impediment.”9 Thus, in the Buddhist Madhyamaka system, ākāśa is nothing more than empty space.

In the early Buddhist Sautrāntika system, ākāśa is nothing more than empty space, same as in the presumably later Madhyamaka system. A line from the Jñāna-sāra-samuccaya, verse 23, sums up the Sautrāntika view of ākāśa, saying that it is “equal to the son of a childless woman” (vandhyā-suta-sama vyoma). This is a common metaphor for something that does not exist. As reported in the Abhidharma-kośa-bhāṣya on 2.55d, the Sautrāntikas define ākāśa as not real (adravya), not an existent thing (bhāva) like form (rūpa), sensation (vedanā), etc. It is the mere absence of the tangible (spraṣṭavya-abhāva-mātra), like not finding an obstacle or resistance (pratighāta) in the dark.

In the early Buddhist Theravāda system in its current form, ākāśa (Pali: ākāsa) is mere empty space.  When distinguished as the ākāsa element (ākāsa-dhātu), it refers to the mere empty space in openings, such as internally in the ear, or externally in doorways.10 It is not one of the great elements (mahā-bhūta), earth, water, fire, and air. It is merely an abstract idea, a conceptual construct (paññatti-mattā).11 This is in contradistinction to the dhammas, which are real things, being established by their inherent nature (sabhāva-siddha). Since ākāsa is not even a dhamma/dharma here, it is certainly not an uncompounded dhamma/dharma, as it is in the early Buddhist Sarvāstivāda system. The Theravāda system recognizes only one uncompounded dhamma/dharma (Pali: asakhata dhamma), namely, nirvāṇa (Pali: nibbāna). Outside of the Theravāda canon there is a Pali text, the Milinda-pañha, that says there are two things that do not arise from karma (Pali: kamma), nor from a cause (hetu), nor from physical change (utu): ākāsa and nibbāna.12 But this is not mainstream Theravāda.13  

As may be seen from the foregoing, ākāśa in the Book of Dzyan is like ākāśa in the Hindu Advaita Vedānta system. Both the Book of Dzyan and Advaita Vedānta are non-dualistic. In both, ākāśa is a near ultimate cosmic principle that is the first thing to emanate from the ultimate cosmic principle.


1. Space is defined in the esoteric Senzar Catechism (The Secret Doctrine, vol. 1, p. 9), or the Occult Catechism (S.D., vol. 1, p. 11), or the esoteric catechism (S.D., vol. 1, p. 35). In this last place Blavatsky is commenting on the first verse of the first stanza from the “Book of Dzyan.” There the eternal parent space is described as being wrapped in her ever invisible robes. These robes are said to stand for the noumenon of undifferentiated cosmic matter, and this is said to be called mūla-prakti. This is described as “the source from which ākāśa radiates.” Specifically, ākāśa is said to be “the first radiation from the Root, the Mūlaprakṛiti, the undifferentiated Cosmic Substance, which becomes Astral Matter” (S.D. 1.75). Hence, “space” cannot be the translation of ākāśa here.

2. Book of Dzyan, stanza 3, verse 7: “Behold, oh Lanoo! The radiant child of the two, the unparalleled refulgent glory: Bright Space Son of Dark Space, which emerges from the depths of the great dark waters. It is Oeaohoo the younger, the * * * He shines forth as the son; he is the blazing Divine Dragon of Wisdom; the One is Four, and Four takes to itself Three,* and the Union produces the Sapta, in whom are the seven which become the Tridasa (or the hosts and the multitudes). Behold him lifting the veil and unfurling it from east to west. He shuts out the above, and leaves the below to be seen as the great illusion. He marks the places for the shining ones, and turns the upper into a shoreless sea of fire, and the one manifested into the great waters.”

3. The verse numbers as first given are from the Sanskrit edition and English translation of the Vaiśeṣika-sūtras prepared by Anantalal Thakur, published in Origin and Development of the Vaiśeṣika System, 2003, pp. 24-121. They are followed by the verse numbers as found in the editions and translations of the Vaiśeṣika-sūtras as commented on by Śaṅkara-miśra. Thakur’s is by far the most definitive edition and translation available today. It is based primarily on the readings found in the anonymous commentary that he published in 1957 and found in the text as commented on by Candrānanda that was published in 1961. It completely supersedes the other editions, which had long been the standard because they were the only ones available.

4. pṛthivī bho gautama kutra pratiṣṭhitā | pṛthivī brāhmaṇa ap-maṇḍale pratiṣṭhitā | ap-maṇḍalam bho gautama kva pratiṣṭhitam | vāyau pratiṣṭhitam | vāyur bho gautama kva pratiṣṭhitaḥ | ākāśe pratiṣṭhitaḥ | ākāśam bho gautama kutra pratiṣṭhitam | atisarasi mahā-brāhmaṇâtisarasi mahā-brāhmaṇa | ākāśam brāhmaṇâpratiṣṭhitam anālambanam |.

This same teaching is found in the Mahāyāna text, Ratna-gotra-vibhāga, chapter 1, verse 55:

pṛthivy-ambau jalaṃ vāyau vāyur vyomni pratiṣṭhitaḥ |
apratiṣṭhitam ākāśaṃ vāyv-ambu-kṣiti-dhātuṣu || 1.55 ||

5. The Abhidharma-samuccaya, Pradhan edition, p. 12, gives eight uncompounded dharmas, including three kinds of tathatā, “suchness.” The *Mahāyāna-śata-dharma-vidyā-mukha or *Mahāyāna-śata-dharma-prakāśa-mukha-śāstra gives six uncompounded dharmas, counting only one tathatā. Otherwise the list of uncompounded dharmas is the same.

6. This verse is quoted in Candrakīrti’s Prasanna-padā commentary on Nāgārjuna’s Mūla-madhyamaka-kārikā, chapter 21, verse 4, Louis de la Vallée Poussin’s edition, 1903-1913, p. 413, line 11.

7. From Āryadeva’s Lamp that Integrates the Practices, edited by Christian K. Wedemeyer, 2007, p. 357.

8. Candrakīrti’s Catuśataka-ṭīka, on verse number 202 in the 1914 edition by Haraprasād Śhāstrī, p. 483; verse number 205 or chapter 9, verse 5, in later editions.

9. Translation by Gareth Sparham, Golden Garland of Eloquence, vol. 1, 2008, p. 466.

10. The Dhammasagai, Pali Text Society edition by Edward Muller, paragraph 638, English translation as A Buddhist Manual of Psychological Ethics, by Caroline A. F. Rhys Davids, 2nd and 3rd editions, pp. 177-178; and its Atthasālinī commentary, Pali Text Society edition by Edward Muller, paragraph 647, English translation as The Expositor, by Pe Maung Tin, p. 425. The Vibhaga, Pali Text Society edition by Mrs. Rhys Davids, p. 262, English translation as The Book of Analysis, by Paṭhamakyaw Ashin Thiṭṭila (Seṭṭhila), paragraph 605, and its Sammoha-Vinodanī commentary, Pali Text Society edition by A. P. Buddhadatta Thero, p. 72, English translation as The Dispeller of Illusion, by Bhikkhu Ñāṇamoli, vol. 1, pp. 84-85.

11. “Time and Space: The Abhidhamma Perspective,” by  Y. Karunadasa, Journal of the Centre for Buddhist Studies, Sri Lanka, vol. 2, 2004, pp. 144-166.

12. The Milindapañho, Pali Text Society edition by V. Trenckner, pp. 268, 271, English translation as Milinda’s Questions, by I. B. Horner, vol. 2, pp. 86-87, 90. See also: Pali, pp. 387-388, English, vol. 2, pp. 261-262, describing the characteristics of ākāsa.

13. In The Buddhist Catechism, written by Henry S. Olcott on behalf of the Theravāda Buddhists, paragraph 327 (in the forty-fourth ed.) says: “everything has come out of Ākāsha, in obedience to a law of motion inherent in it.” In fact, this is a Theosophical doctrine, not a Theravāda doctrine. For some reason, the Theravāda teachers who reviewed the catechism at Olcott’s request before its publication did not catch this. Unfortunately, this was quoted by H. P. Blavatsky in The Secret Doctrine (vol. 1, pp. 635-636). Also given there was a paraphrase of the statement that immediately preceded it in The Buddhist Catechism, “The Buddha taught that two things are causeless, viz., ‘Ākāsha’ and ‘Nirvāna’,” saying “they teach that only ‘two things are [objectively] eternal, namely Ākāśa and Nirvāṇa.’” This is the teaching of the Milinda-pañha, but is not the teaching of Theravāda Buddhism, let alone the teaching of Buddhism in general.

Category: Uncategorized | 1 comment


The three-tongued flame of the four wicks

By David Reigle on January 1, 2021 at 11:43 pm

The Book of Dzyan, Stanza 7, verse 4, begins:

“It is the root that never dies; the three-tongued flame of the four wicks . . .”

In the commentary on this (The Secret Doctrine, vol. 1, p. 237), Blavatsky appears to quote a parallel passage from the Egyptian Book of the Dead:

“‘I am the three-wicked Flame and my wicks are immortal,’ says the defunct. ‘I enter into the domain of Sekhem (the God whose arm sows the seed of action produced by the disembodied soul) and I enter the region of the Flames who have destroyed their adversaries,’ i.e., got rid of the sin-creating ‘four wicks.’ (See chap. i., vii., ‘Book of the Dead,’ and the ‘Mysteries of Ro-stan.’)”

If the defunct really says “I am the three-wicked Flame and my wicks are immortal” in the Egyptian Book of the Dead, this would be a parallel passage of much significance. So, years ago the late Jeanine Miller contacted me to see if I could find this in the improved translations published since Blavatsky’s time. Blavatsky used the 1882 French translation by Paul Pierret, Le Livre des morts des anciens Égyptiens, for her references to the Egyptian Book of the Dead. In Pierret’s translation, Blavatsky’s reference to chapter i, line vii, is in the midst of a sentence. I here quote the whole sentence (p. 5):

“Je suis avec Horus ce jour d’envelopper Teshtesh, d’ouvrir la porte au vengeur de l’immobile de coeur

l. 7.  et de rendre mystérieux les mystères de Ro-stau. Je suis avec Horus dans l’acte de pétrir ce bras gauche de l’Osiris qui est à Sekhem; je sors et j’entre dans la demeure des flammes, détruisant les adversaires,

l. 8.  autrement dit les rebelles dans Sekhem.”

Pierret’s French translation was translated into English by Charles H. S. Davis, and published in 1895, titled The Egyptian Book of the Dead. That sentence was rendered into English as (p. 69):

“I am with Horus on this day for covering Teshtesh, for opening the door to the avenger of the god with a motionless heart

7. and for making mysterious the mysteries in Restau. I am with Horus in the act of supporting this left arm of the Osiris who is in Sechem; I go out and enter the blazing-abode, exterminating the opponents,

8. in other words, the rebels in Sechem.”

As may be seen, this is indeed what Blavatsky referred to in her commentary on this stanza from the Book of Dzyan; but the phrase “I am the three-wicked Flame and my wicks are immortal” is not there in either Pierret’s French translation or in its translation into English by Davis. The only reference to flame there is “blazing-abode,” “demeure des flammes.”

Notice that Ro-stau in Pierret’s “mystères de Ro-stau,” Restau in Davis’s “mysteries in Restau,” is Ro-stan in Blavatsky’s “Mysteries of Ro-stan.” This is obviously nothing more than a typographical error in The Secret Doctrine, reading the “u” in Blavatsky’s handwritten Ro-stau as “n.” This was then repeated in The Theosophical Glossary, but without the hyphen: “Rostan. Book of the Mysteries of Rostan; an occult work in manuscript.” As we shall see, other Egyptologists use other variant spellings of this word. More importantly, the “occult work in manuscript” referred to must be the source of the phrase, “I am the three-wicked Flame and my wicks are immortal,” and the source of Blavatsky’s interpretation of it. Contrary to Jeanine Miller’s hopes, the improved translations published since Blavatsky’s time do not have this phrase.

Since Pierret’s 1882 French translation used by Blavatsky, the Egyptian Book of the Dead has been translated a few more times. The most famous of these translations is by E. A. Wallis Budge, published in 1895, with a revised translation in 1913. Despite the popularity of the Budge translations up to the present, Egyptian language studies have progressed much since then, and these have been superseded by what are regarded as the more accurate translations made by Raymond O. Faulkner (1972), and by Thomas George Allen (1974), independently of each other. As is well-known, there is no single Egyptian Book of the Dead, but rather a number of somewhat differing collections of “spells.” There are nearly 200 of these spells. A numbering system for them was introduced by Karl Richard Lepsius in the mid-1800s, and it is still in use by Egyptologists. So it is easily possible to locate the same spell in the different published translations of the various versions.

In the 1972 translation by Raymond O. Faulkner, as reprinted in The Ancient Egyptian Book of the Dead (University of Texas Press, Austin, Published in Cooperation with British Museum Press, 1985), this passage (with fuller surrounding sentences) is translated as (p. 35):

“Thoth has helped me so that I might be with Horus on the day of the clothing of the Dismembered One and of the opening of the caverns for the washing of the Inert One and the throwing open of the door of the secret things in Rosetjau; so that I might be with Horus as the protector of the left arm of Osiris who is in Letopolis. I go in and out among those who are there on the day of crushing the rebels in Letopolis so that I may be with Horus on the day of the Festival of Osiris; . . .”

In this translation there is no mention of flame. Instead it has “among those who are there.”

In the 1974 translation by Thomas George Allen, The Book of the Dead, or Going Forth by Day (The Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago, University of Chicago Press), this passage (with fuller surrounding sentences) is translated as (p. 5):

“I was with Horus on the day of wrapping the Dismembered One and opening the pits, of washing the weary-hearted one and secreting the entrance to the secrets of Rosetau. I was with Horus as savior of that left shoulder of Osiris that was in (Letopolis), going into and out of the devouring flame on the day of expelling the rebels from (Letopolis).”

As in Pierret’s translation used by Blavatsky, there is a reference to flame, but nothing about “I am the three-wicked Flame and my wicks are immortal.”

To be more complete, in the 1895 translation by E. A. Wallis Budge, The Book of the Dead: The Papyrus of Ani in the British Museum. The Egyptian Text with Interlinear Transliteration and Translation, a Running Translation, Introduction, Etc., this passage (with fuller surrounding sentences) is translated as (pp. 271-272):

“I am with Horus on the day of the clothing of Teshtesh and of the opening of the storehouses of water for the purification of the god whose heart moveth not, and of the unbolting of the door of concealed things in Re-stau. I am with Horus who guardeth the left shoulder of Osiris in Sekhem, and I go into and come out from the divine flames on the day of the destruction of the fiends in Sekhem.”

Budge here adds a footnote on Re-stau: “I.e., ‘the door of the passages of the tomb.’”

In the 1913 revised translation by E. A. Wallis Budge, The Book of the Dead: The Hieroglyphic Transcript of the Papyrus of ANI, the Translation into English and An Introduction, this passage (with fuller surrounding sentences) is translated as (p. 358):

“I am with Horus on the day of dressing Teshtesh. I open the hidden water-springs for the ablutions of Urt-ab. I unbolt the door of the Shetait Shrine in Ra-stau. I am with Horus as the protector (or defender) of the left shoulder of Osiris, the dweller in Sekhem. I enter in among and I come forth from the Flame-gods on the day of the destruction of the Sebhau fiends in Sekhem.”

Budge here adds a footnote on Ra-stau: “Ra-stau is the name given to the entrance to the corridors which led down to the Kingdom of Seker at or quite near to the modern region of Sakkarah.”

The Budge translations refer to “the divine flames,” or “the Flame-gods,” but again, nothing like the phrase “I am the three-wicked Flame and my wicks are immortal.”

The first ever English translation of the Egyptian Book of the Dead was made by Samuel Birch, and was included in the 1867 book, Egypt’s Place in Universal History, volume 5. This translation was not used by Blavatsky. In it, this passage (with fuller surrounding sentences) is translated as (p. 162):

“I am with Horus the day of clothing Tesh-tesh [the Nile], to open the door to wash the heart of the meek one, keeping secret the secret places in Rusta. I am with Horus supporting the right shoulder of Osiris in Skhem. I come and go from the Realms of Fire [the Phlegethon]. I expel the wicked [or the opposers] from Skhem.”

None of these translations of the Egyptian Book of the Dead have anything like the phrase, “I am the three-wicked Flame and my wicks are immortal.” Nor do they suggest anything like Blavatsky’s interpretation of this phrase. We must therefore assume that this phrase, and this interpretation, come from the “Book of the Mysteries of Rostan [i.e., Rostau]; an occult work in manuscript.”

Category: Book of Dzyan, Cosmogenesis, Parabrahman | 4 comments



By David Reigle on August 31, 2020 at 3:49 am

This is part of an ongoing glossary of terms relating to the Book of Dzyan.

            The term parabrahman is used in The Secret Doctrine to refer to one of the two aspects under which the “omnipresent, eternal, boundless, and immutable principle” is symbolized, the other aspect then being referred to as mūlaprakṛti. These two terms were adopted from the writings of T. Subba Row as the Advaita Vedānta terms for the two aspects that H. P. Blavatsky had called “absolute abstract motion” or “pre-cosmic ideation,” and “absolute abstract space” or “pre-cosmic substance,” respectively. However, the one reality (the “omnipresent, eternal, boundless, and immutable principle” of The Secret Doctrine) is referred to in Advaita Vedānta as brahman or parabrahman only. The term mūlaprakṛti is rarely used in Advaita Vedānta; and when it is, it is equated with māyā, the illusion of an ever-changing universe that is superimposed on the one changeless brahman. Blavatsky used these two terms because, following Subba Row’s earlier writings (not his later lectures on the Bhagavad-gītā), she thought that this was the Advaita Vedānta teaching: “. . . viewed in the same dual light as the Vedantin views his Parabrahm and Mulaprakriti, the one under two aspects” (The Secret Doctrine, vol. 1, p. 46). This is not the Advaita Vedānta teaching.

            The term brahman is the normal and usual word for the absolute in the Hindu Upaniṣads, and therefore in Vedānta of whatever school. In the Advaita school of Vedānta, brahman is non-dual (advaita), the one only, without a second (“ekam evādvitīyam,” Chāndogya Upaniṣad 6.2.1-2), and without qualities (nirguṇa). When some passages of the Upaniṣads seem to speak of brahman as having qualities (saguṇa), there may arise a need to distinguish brahman as it really is according to Advaita Vedānta, without qualities, from brahman as seeming to have qualities. Therefore we occasionally find the term param brahman, or parabrahman, used in contrast to aparam brahman, or aparabrahman (e.g., Praśna Upaniṣad 5.2). This is not common, since the term brahman is the normal and usual word for the absolute, requiring no qualifier such as param, “higher, highest, supreme,” in contrast to aparam, “lower.”

            As explained by Śaṅkarācārya in his Brahma-sūtra commentary on 4.3.14, brahman is only referred to as higher (param) and lower (aparam) brahman when we attribute to it upadhi-s, “limiting adjuncts,” of name and form, due to wrong knowing (avidyā). The Upaniṣads themselves may and do attribute such names and forms to brahman for the sake of imparting kinds of meditation on brahman. Because of this, the Hindu writings sometimes distinguish brahman as parabrahman, the “higher” brahman, from aparabrahman, the “lower” brahman, to which names and forms are figuratively attributed. The lower brahman is then regarded as īśvara, “God,” or sometimes as Brahmā, the creator god, but not as mūlaprakṛti.

            In Theosophical writings we sometimes see parabrahman defined as “beyond Brahmā,” where Brahmā is the masculine creator deity (H. P. Blavatsky, Transactions of the Blavatsky Lodge, p. 4). This meaning of parabrahman is not grammatically possible. When the word param is taken as “beyond,” it is preceded by some word declined in the ablative case, meaning “than” that something; literally “higher than,” or less literally “beyond,” that something. We do not have that here. Nor is the word parabrahman understood as “beyond Brahmā” in the Hindu texts. It means simply the “higher brahman,” even though the lower brahman, aparabrahman, can be understood as the masculine Brahmā.

            The Sanskrit word that we write as brahman is the undeclined form. It may be declined in the neuter gender or in the masculine gender. When declined in the neuter nominative singular it is brahma, the absolute. When declined in the masculine nominative singular it is brahmā, the masculine creator god. Without the diacritic mark on the final “a” these words cannot be distinguished. Since English does not use diacritics, there arose the convention of writing the undeclined form brahman to mean the neuter form, the absolute, leaving brahma (without diacritics) to mean the masculine form, the creator god, often capitalized as Brahma. In publications that use diacritics, it would be written as Brahmā. In English language books written before this convention became established, the neuter declined form brahma was often used for the absolute, like it is in the Sanskrit texts themselves. This potentially confusing situation must always be taken into account.

            In Theosophical writings we sometimes even see parabrahman defined as “beyond brahman,” the neuter absolute (G. de Purucker, Studies in Occult Philosophy, p. 521), saying that this is “what the Oriental means when he says Parabrahman.” This meaning, too, is not grammatically possible, and there is no warrant for it in the Hindu texts. It is not what the Oriental means when he says parabrahman. Indeed, where the phrase param brahma occurs at the end of the Praśna Upaniṣad, it is followed by: na ataḥ param asti, translated by S. Radhakrishnan as “There is naught higher than that,” or as translated by Charles Johnston, “there is naught beyond.”

            In the Hindu Advaita Vedānta texts, brahman (or parabrahman) is described as “pure consciousness” (cin-mātra). More fully, brahman is described at the beginning of Śaṅkarācārya’s commentary on the Brahma-sūtras as “by nature eternally pure, intelligent, and free, omniscient and endowed with all powers” (nitya-śuddha-buddha-mukta-svabhāvaṃ sarva-jñaṃ sarva-śakti-samanvitam). This is taught in direct contrast to the unconscious pradhāna, “primary substance,” or mūla-prakṛti, “root-substance,” taught in the Hindu Sāṃkhya worldview, this being rejected by Śaṅkarācārya for the very reason that the absolute cannot be unconscious (acetana). In the Theosophical model, following an esoteric Buddhist or Arhat model, the one reality is described as unconscious(ness). These two opposing views are usually taught in Theosophy as merely being two ways of looking at the same thing. In the one place where Blavatsky clearly makes this distinction, she writes:

“We have already pointed out that, in our opinion, the whole difference between Buddhistic and Vedantic philosophies was that the former was a kind of rationalistic Vedantism, while the latter might be regarded as transcendental Buddhism. . . . Buddhist rationalism was ever too alive to the insuperable difficulty of admitting one absolute consciousness, as in the words of Flint—‘wherever there is consciousness there is relation, and wherever there is relation there is dualism.’ The ONE LIFE is either ‘MUKTA’ (absolute and unconditioned) and can have no relation to anything nor to any one; or it is ‘BADDHA’ (bound and conditioned), and then it cannot be called the ABSOLUTE; the limitation, moreover, necessitating another deity as powerful as the first to account for all the evil in this world. Hence, the Arahat secret doctrine on cosmogony admits but of one absolute, indestructible, eternal, and uncreated UNCONSCIOUSNESS (so to translate), of an element (the word being used for want of a better term) absolutely independent of everything else in the universe; a something ever present or ubiquitous, a Presence which ever was, is, and will be, whether there is a God, gods or none; whether there is a universe or no universe; existing during the eternal cycles of Maha Yugas, during the Pralayas as during the periods of Manvantara: and this is SPACE, the field for the operation of the eternal Forces and natural Law, the basis (as our correspondent rightly calls it) upon which take place the eternal intercorrelations of Akâśa-Prakriti, guided by the unconscious regular pulsations of Śakti—the breath or power of a conscious deity, the theists would say—the eternal energy of an eternal, unconscious Law, say the Buddhists.”

(“Editorial Appendix” by H. P. Blavatsky to “The Aryan-Arhat Esoteric Tenets on the Sevenfold Principle in Man,” by T. Subba Row, from The Theosophist, vol. 3, no. 4, January, 1882, pp. 93-99, reprinted in Blavatsky Collected Writings, vol. 3, this quote on pp. 422-423.)

            It is useful to be aware of this distinction when studying these things, since the Sāṃkhya teaching of the unconscious pradhāna, “primary substance,” or mūla-prakṛti, “root-substance,” is taken as the primary target for refutation by Śaṅkarācārya in his Brahma-sūtra commentary, the single most authoritative work on Advaita Vedānta. When Blavatsky used the term parabrahman to describe the “omnipresent, eternal, boundless, and immutable principle,” or one aspect under which it is symbolized, she would have been regarding pure consciousness and unconsciousness as merely being two ways of looking at the same thing. For, when speaking of something that is beyond the range and reach of thought, one description may be as adequate (or inadequate) as the other. Nonetheless, how brahman or parabrahman is understood in Advaita Vedānta does not quite match how the one reality is understood in Theosophy. The term parabrahman is a synonym of the Theosophical “omnipresent, eternal, boundless, and immutable principle” only insofar as both refer to the absolute in their respective systems of thought.

Category: Book of Dzyan, Cosmogenesis, Parabrahman | No comments yet



By David Reigle on July 27, 2020 at 1:57 am

This is part of an ongoing glossary of terms relating to the Book of Dzyan.

            The term mūlaprakṛti is used in The Secret Doctrine to refer to one of the two aspects under which the “omnipresent, eternal, boundless, and immutable principle” is symbolized, the other aspect then being referred to as parabrahman. These two terms were adopted from the writings of T. Subba Row as the Advaita Vedānta terms for the two aspects that H. P. Blavatsky had called “absolute abstract space” or “pre-cosmic substance” and “absolute abstract motion” or “pre-cosmic ideation,” respectively. However, this is not exactly what these two terms refer to in Hinduism, and mūlaprakṛti is not really an Advaita Vedānta term.

            The term mūlaprakṛti is defined in The Secret Doctrine as “the root of Nature” (vol. 1, pp. 62, 136), “the Root of all” (vol. 1, pp. 147, 256, 340), “the ‘root-Principle’ of the world stuff and of all in the world” (vol. 1, p. 522), and “the root of Prakriti” (vol. 2, p. 65). The entry in the Theosophical Glossary shows that this is what Blavatsky thought was the literal meaning of the term: “Mûlaprakriti (Sk.). . . . undifferentiated substance . . . Literally, ‘the root of Nature’ (Prakriti) or Matter” (p. 218). This is not the literal meaning of the term, nor can it be. The term is a Sanskrit compound, consisting of mūla, “root,” and prakṛti, “substance, matter, nature.” In order to mean “the root of nature,” the compound would have to be prakṛti-mūla, not mūla-prakṛti.

            The term mūlaprakṛti is a Sāṃkhya term, despite the fact that Subba Row used it as an Advaita Vedānta term, and Blavatsky adopted it as such from him. It occurs in the third verse of the authoritative Sāṃkhya-kārikā. The standard commentary by Vācaspati-miśra, the Sāṃkhya-tattva-kaumudī, glosses it there as: mūlaṃ cāsau prakṛtiś ceti mūlaprakṛtiḥ, which Ganganatha Jha translates as: “it is that ‘Matter’ which is the ‘Root’.” Grammatically it is, and can only be, a karmadhāraya compound, not a tatpuruṣa compound. This is why it cannot mean “the root of substance,” but can only mean “that substance which is the root,” or simply, “root-substance.”

            The term mūlaprakṛti is found only rarely in Advaita Vedānta texts; and when it is, it is used as a synonym of māyā, “illusion,” or avidyā, “wrong knowing.” The term parabrahman that it is paired with in The Secret Doctrine is not much used in Advaita Vedānta texts, since they almost always simply use brahman for the absolute, the one reality, with no need for any qualifying adjective like para, “supreme” or “highest.” Thus, mūlaprakṛti is paired with parabrahman or brahman only like māyā is paired with brahman, as an illusory something that is not ultimately real because it goes away when brahman is realized through right knowing. It is without beginning, anādi, but not without end.

            The idea that root-substance or mūlaprakṛti is eternal, and therefore could be an aspect of the absolute, is a Theosophical idea and a Sāṃkhya idea, but not an Advaita Vedānta idea. Subba Row strongly advocated that matter or substance is eternal in his articles written in response to the Almora Swami, thus giving an esoteric teaching as if it was the standard Advaita Vedānta teaching. Later, however, in his lectures on the Bhagavad-gītā he reverted to the standard Advaita Vedānta teaching, strongly distinguishing mūlaprakṛti from parabrahman as being only the veil of parabrahman. This was copied in The Secret Doctrine several times (vol. 1, pp. 10, 130, 274, 351, 426, 428, 429, 430, 432, 536) as being the true esoteric teaching.

            Subba Row had stated clearly in his first lecture on the Bhagavad-gītā that mūlaprakṛti is not parabrahman, and this was quoted approvingly in The Secret Doctrine (vol. 1, p. 428): “Parabrahmam appears to it as Mulaprakriti. . . . This Mulaprakriti is material to it (the Logos), as any material object is material to us. This Mulaprakriti is no more Parabrahmam than the bundle of attributes of a pillar is the pillar itself; Parabrahmam is an unconditioned and absolute reality, and Mulaprakriti is a sort of veil thrown over it.” Following upon this in The Secret Doctrine (vol. 1, p. 629), Blavatsky tells us to draw a deep line in our thought between the one reality and mūlaprakṛti (vol. 1, p. 629): “. . . the One Reality . . . a true spirit of esoteric philosophy . . . the impersonal, attributeless, absolute divine essence which is no ‘Being,’ but the root of all being. Draw a deep line in your thought between that ever-incognizable essence, and the, as invisible, yet comprehensible Presence (Mulaprakriti), . . .”

            Yet, as one of the two aspects under which the one reality is symbolized, The Secret Doctrine makes it clear that no such distinction can be made: “. . . the ONE Immutable—Parabrahm = Mulaprakriti, the eternal one-root” (1.340). “. . . eternal (Nitya) unconditioned reality or SAT (Satya), whether we call it Parabrahmam or Mulaprakriti, for these are the two aspects of the ONE” (1.69). “Absolute, Divine Spirit is one with absolute Divine Substance: Parabrahm and Mulaprakriti are one in essence. Therefore, Cosmic Ideation and Cosmic Substance in their primal character are one also” (1.337 fn.). “In its absoluteness, the One Principle under its two aspects (of Parabrahmam and Mulaprakriti) is sexless, unconditioned and eternal” (1.18). Blavatsky used these two terms because, following Subba Row’s earlier writings, she thought that this was the Advaita Vedānta teaching: “. . . viewed in the same light as the Vedantin views his Parabrahm and Mulaprakriti, the one under two aspects.” (1.46). This is not the Advaita Vedānta teaching, but it is the Theosophical teaching.

            The term mūlaprakṛti is not used in Theosophy like in Advaita Vedānta, where it is synonymous with māyā, “illusion,” the few times it occurs there. In Theosophy it is used much more like in Sāṃkhya, where it is one of the two eternal cosmic principles, mūla-prakṛti, “root-substance,” and puruṣa, “spirit,” with one fundamental difference. Theosophy teaches a single, non-dual reality, while Sāṃkhya as now known is a dualistic system, although it may not have always been dualistic. Sāṃkhya is regarded as the oldest philosophical system or worldview (darśana) in India, and its founder, Kapila is traditionally known as the “first knower,” ādi-vidvān. There are references to an old Sāṃkhya in which the absolute is brahman, and puruṣa and prakṛti are merely its two aspects, just like in Theosophy. As such, it makes no difference whether one refers to the absolute as spirit or as substance, since they are only two ways of looking at the same one reality.

            Thus we can have the rather surprising statement in the Mahatma letter (#10, chronological #88): “In other words we believe in MATTER alone, in matter as visible nature and matter in its invisibility as the invisible omnipresent omnipotent Proteus with its unceasing motion which is its life, and which nature draws from herself since she is the great whole outside of which nothing can exist.” This does not at all rule out spirit, since the letter is speaking of living substance. It is matter or substance endowed with life or motion, motion which never ceases even during pralaya when the cosmos is out of manifestation. It is this living substance that was referred to in another Mahatma letter as mūlaprakṛti (#59, chronological #111):

“The One reality is Mulaprakriti (undifferentiated Substance)—the ‘Rootless root,’ the . . . But we have to stop, lest there should remain but little to tell for your own intuitions.”

Category: Book of Dzyan, Cosmogenesis, Mulaprakriti | No comments yet


A Digital Index of The Secret Doctrine

By Ingmar de Boer on June 28, 2020 at 8:35 pm

Studying the SD again intensively for some time, I felt the need for a digital index, containing every word of the text. On the basis of the digital ASCII text edition of the volumes I and II by Theosophical University Press, I have generated a simple index, as well as a list of word frequencies, which might also be useful to other students. I post these files here, including some documentation in the form of my notes.

Category: Anthropogenesis, Cosmogenesis | No comments yet


Svabhāva as Prima Materia (v. 4)

By Ingmar de Boer on June 24, 2020 at 8:47 am


Several of the concepts central to the philosophy of H.P. Blavatsky’s (HPB’s) work The Secret Doctrine, may be defined in terms of “svabhâvât”. Some of these concepts will be listed in this introduction. In the following paragraphs we can have a look at some examples of the use of the term svabhâvât (svabhāva), in relevant scholarly, philosophical and religious works, to see if we can find any resemblance to the concept of svabhāva as it is presented in The Secret Doctrine.

In the Proem to The Secret Doctrine (SD I, 1), in the “archaïc manuscript”, boundless abstract space is symbolised as an immaculate white disk on a dull background. In SD I, 35, abstract space is described as unconditional, and eternal (timeless or independent of time):

“What is that which was, is, and will be, whether there is a Universe or not; whether there be gods or none?” asks the esoteric Senzar Catechism. And the answer made is — SPACE.

In the very first śloka from the Book of Dzyan as presented in The Secret Doctrine, stanza 1 śloka 1 (SD I, 35), abstract space is called the eternal parent:


The invisible robes in which the parent is “wrapped” are interpreted in stanza 1 śloka 5 as mūlaprakṛti, the one primordial substance. In stanza 1 śloka 5 (SD I, 40-41) then, abstract space is called darkness:


HPB explains in SD I, 41:

When the whole universe was plunged into sleep — had returned to its one primordial element — there was neither centre of luminosity, nor eye to perceive light, and darkness necessarily filled the boundless all.

In stanza 2 śloka 5 (SD I, 60), we find the same identification, and furthermore, darkness is called father-mother, and svabhâvât:


This applies only to the state of pralaya, the sleep of the universe, and svabhâvât may appear in at least two respective stages. The nivṛitti (also incorrectly spelled nirvṛtti) stage is also called pradhāna, when svabhâvât is in darkness, while the pravṛtti stage is called prakṛti, when svabhâvât has become the manifested matter which is at the basis of the various planes of manifestation. Not in each case in HPB’s writings the term pradhāna is used for the unmanifested root of matter, but in volumes I and II of the SD we find it used consistently in this manner. For example in SD I, 257 we find:

the former term (pradhāna) being certainly synonymous with Mulaprakriti and Akasa, […]

Here we see that ākāśa is also identified with mūlaprakṛti, the unmanifested “root of matter”.

1. The Orthography of Svabhâvât

Concerning svabhâvât, Friedrich Max Müller reported the following in 1876 in his Chips from a German Workshop Vol. I. p 278:

The Svâbhâvikas maintain that nothing exists but nature, or rather substance, and that this substance exists by itself (“svabhâvât), without a Creator or a Ruler. It exists, however, under two forms : in the state of Pravritti, as active, or in the state of Nirvritti, as passive.

Daniel Caldwell has suggested that this passage might have been HPB’s source for the term svabhâvât, and that the ending in -ât would indicate the ablative case of svabhāva, meaning “by itself”. If this is true, these two terms would be two forms of the same base word, which is spelled in the current IAST orthography as svabhāva.

2. Svabhāva: Nature or Substance

Based on this identification of svabhâvât as svabhāva, we can look up this term in common dictionaries and start reviewing what was written in the time of HPB in sources she has consulted or might have consulted, which is not always clear. In this last quotation from Müller, he distinguishes two senses of the word svabhāva: “nature” and “substance”. Perhaps he is echoing Brian Houghton Hodgson at this point. In the standard Monier-Williams’ A Sanskrit-English Dictionary (MW), this second sense is not mentioned in the main lemmata for svabhāva and svabhāvāt:

m. own condition or state of being, natural state or constitution, innate or inherent disposition, nature, impulse, spontaneity

m. (…vāt or …vena or …va-tas or ibc.), (from natural disposition, by nature, naturally, by one’s self, spontaneously) ŚvetUp. Mn. MBh. &c.

A specific use of svabhāva or svabhāvāt as a philosophical term in Mahāyāna Buddhist literature as mentioned by HPB is not included in MW. In HPB’s time there were also the dictionaries by Horace Hayman Wilson (whom she held in high regard as a researcher), and later the great Sanskrit-German dictionary by Rudolf Roth and Otto von Böhtlingk, which also do not mention svabhāva as “substance”.

If we look at the Śvetāśvatara Upanishad (ŚvUp, ca. 400 BCE ±100), the oldest extant work where the term svabhāva is mentioned, in ŚvUp 1.2 we find in the discussion on the first cause of things, svabhāva as a possible first cause (tr. Robert Ernest Hume, 1921) :

kālaḥ svabhāvo niyatir yadṛcchā bhūtāni yoniḥ puruṣeti cintyam /
saṃyoga eṣāṃ na tv ātmabhāvād ātmā hy anīśaḥ sukhaduḥkhahetoḥ //

Time (kāla), or inherent nature (sva-bhāva), or necessity (niyati) or chance (yadṛcchā), or the elements (bhūta), or a [female] womb (yoni), or a [male] person (puruṣa) are to be considered [as the cause]; […]

This verse answers the question “kutaḥ sma jātā”, “whence are we born?”, from the previous verse. Again we find svabhāva as “inherent nature” and not as “substance”. Moreover, from the translation it is not clear if svabhāva is intended here as 1. inherent nature of individual entitites (pluralistic) or 2. of entities in general or the universe as a whole. (monistic) In the Book of Dzyan, svabhāva is in principle a monistic concept, as we have seen in the introduction to this article.

3. HPB’s quote from the Anugītā

In the SD, HPB refers to one extant work from the context of Hinduism where svabhāva is used in the sense of “substance”. In SD I, 571 she quotes the Anugītā:

[…] Gods, Men, Gandharvas, Pisâchas, Asuras, Râkshasas, all have been created by Svabhâva (Prakriti, or plastic nature), not by actions, nor by a cause” — i.e., not by any physical cause.

In the 1882 translation of the Anugītā by K.T. Telang, a work HPB has consulted on other occasions, on p. 387 we find what is presumably the source of this quotation:

Gods, men, Gandharvas, Pisâkas, Asuras, Râkshasas, all have been created by nature5, not by actions, nor by a cause.

where note 5 refers to:

5. The original is svabhâva, which Arguna Misra renders by Prakriti.

From her substitution of “nature” by “Svabhâva (Prakriti, or plastic nature)” we may derive that HPB interprets svabhâva here as the term svabhâvât appearing in the Book of Dzyan, which is described as “plastic essence” (SD I, 61), the plastic root of physical Nature (SD I, 98), which in its “active condition” is called prakṛti.

Note 5 refers to the commentary to the Mahābhārata by Arjuna Miśra (16th c.), who, according to the note, renders svabhāva as prakṛti. We can read the original verse in book 14, chapter 50 (Bombay ed. 51), verse 11 of the Mahābhārata, the Anugītā being part of its Aśvamedha parvan:

devā manuṣyā gandharvāḥ piśācāsurarākṣasāḥ
sarve svabhāvataḥ sṛṣṭā na kriyābhyo na kāraṇāt || 14.50.11 ||

Indeed in this verse, “by nature” seems to be an inadequate translation for svabhāva. Although Arjuna Miśra, and HPB, have thought that in this verse svabhāva should be identified with prakṛti, it is still possible that the author has intended “inherent nature” and not “substance”. Just as in the quotation from the ŚvUp, it is not exactly clear here if svabhāva is intended as an individual (pluralistic) or a collective “cause”.

4. The Mahāvyutpatti

In the Mahāvyutpatti (Mv, Toh. 4346), the famous Tibetan-Sanskrit dictionary, a work from a Buddhist context dating back to the first half of the 9th century, the Sanskrit entry for prakṛti (no. 7497) is linked to Tibetan “rang bzhin”, “rang bzhin ngo bo nyid”, and “rang bzhin ngo bo nyid dam rang bzhin.” These three terms are expressions for svabhāva as the “inherent nature” of Mahāyāna Buddhism. The two terms rang bzhin and ngo bo nyid are derived from rang (own, self) and ngo or ngo bo (face), and therefore their primary meaning will be closer to svabhāva as “nature” than to “substance”. The next entry in the Mv, no. 7498, is indeed svabhāva, to which are linked the same three expressions.

No. Sanskrit Tibetan
7497 prakṛti rang bzhin; rang bzhin ngo bo nyid; rang bzhin ngo bo nyid dam rang bzhin
7498 svabhāva rang bzhin; rang bzhin ngo bo nyid; rang bzhin ngo bo nyid dam rang bzhin

This may suggest that at the time the Mv was composed, the terms svabhāva and prakṛti were seen as completely synonymous, by the team of creators of the dictionary, but also by extension by the lotsavas who considered the Mv their golden standard. However, it does not say anything about whether in the Mv svabhāva/prakṛti is considered a pluralistic or monistic concept or perhaps even both.

5. The Svabhāva Mantra

Eugène Burnouf, on p. 393 of his Introduction à l’Histoire du Bouddhisme Indien (1876), notices that “the word Nature does not render at all that which the Buddhists understand as Svabhāva” [tr. IdB]:

They see it at the same time as Nature which exists in itself, absolute Nature, the cause of the world, and as the own Nature of every existence, that which constitutes that it exists.

Here we have the two standpoints, of Mahāyānist monism and Hīnayāna pluralism, combined into one. In connection with the elusive or illusive school of the Svābhāvikas (spelled by Burnouf with the extra macron), Burnouf remarks on p. 395: “When they were asked: Where do existences come from? they answered: Svabhāvāt, ‘from their own nature’ — And where do they go after this life? — Into other forms produced by the irresistable influence of that same nature. […]”.

On pp. 572-3 Burnouf adds:

The second of the two meanings of the word Svabhāva, which I set out in my text, is perfectly demonstrated in a passage of the Pañcakramaṭippaṇī which I think is useful to cite. The yogi must, according to the text of that work, pronounce the following axiom: Svabhāva śuddhaḥ sarvadharmāḥ svabhāva śuddho ‘ham iti. ‘All conditions or all existences are produced from their own nature; I am myself produced from my own nature.’ I believe that this meaning of svabhāva is the most ancient; if, as Hodgson thought, the Buddhists understood by this term the abstract nature, this metaphysical notion may have been added to the word afterwards, of which the natural interpretation is that which is indicated by the axiom I have just cited. It may be useful to remark that taking the participle śuddha, in the sense of ‘complete, accomplished;’ is colloquial in Buddhist Sanskrit.

The ṭippaṇī in question is also known as the Piṇḍīkramaṭippaṇī, which is Parahitarakṣita’s short commentary on the first part of the tantric Nāgārjuna’s Pañcakrama. Both the Pañcakrama and the ṭippaṇī were published by Louis de la Vallée Poussin in 1896, in one volume in the series Études et textes tantriques of Ghent university. On p. 15, lines 5-7 we find this passage. (see the Sanskrit Texts division of the Book of Dzyan web site, at http://prajnaquest.fr/blog/sanskrit-texts-3/sanskrit-buddhist-texts/)

Burnouf’s “axiom” is widely known as a mantra, under various names. It is called Svabhāva Mantra, Śuddha Mantra, or Śūnyata Mantra although this name is also used for another well known mantra. It is part of the sādhanas of quite a number of different traditions. Since the Pañcakrama and Piṇḍīkramaṭippaṇī are (sub-) commentaries to the Guhyasamājatantra, we might expect to find this mantra in the Guhyasamāja root text, but, searching visually several times, I have not been able to find it there. It is however a part of a commonly used daily sādhana of Guhyasamāja. In the Sādhanamālā, which is a later collection of 312 Buddhist ceremonial practices, the mantra is found 30 times. An example of a ceremony is the sādhana of Tārā, which is also studied by Stephan Beyer in The Cult of Tara. The mantra is found there as part of the Four Mandala Offering to Tara, where it is used to purify the location and attributes for the ritual, before the ceremony. (p. 180)

The mantra is also part of long and short versions of the Kālacakra sādhana, and as such it is discussed by David Reigle in his article on Sanskrit Mantras in the Kālacakra Sādhana. It was published in As Long as Space Endures: Essays on the Kālacakra Tantra in Honor of H.H. the Dalai Lama, where the mantra is found on p. 302. As a source for this mantra, Reigle refers to the Kālacakrabhagavatsādhanavidhiḥ (Toh. 1358). His translation is the following:

Oṃ svabhāvaśuddhāḥ sarvadharmāḥ svabhāvaśuddho ‘ham.

oṃ; Naturally pure are all things; naturally pure am I.

In this translation, svabhāvaśuddhāḥ is interpreted as “pure of nature”, or “pure by nature” instead of Burnouf’s “produced from its/their own nature”.

Lama Thubten Yeshe, in An Explanation of the Shunyata Mantra and a Meditation on Emptiness (in: Mandala, January/March 2009) explains the meaning of this same mantra as follows:

Also, this mantra contains a profound explanation of the pure, fundamental nature of both human beings and all other existent phenomena. It means that everything is spontaneously pure – not relatively, of course, but in the absolute sense. From the absolute point of view, the fundamental quality of human beings and the nature of all things is purity.

Svabhāva is here interpreted by Lama Yeshe as the “fundamental nature” of entities, or absolute reality, called paramārtha or pariniṣpanna in the Book of Dzyan. Ultimate reality or absolute reality is “pure” in the sense that it is the state of matter (mūlaprakṛti/prakṛti) where it is still unmanifested, or as HPB might have called it, non-manvantaric, or nivṛtti.

In the three examples presented here svabhāva is viewed also as absolute reality, paramārtha in Madhyamaka terminology, and not only as conditional reality, saṃvṛtti. Of course in any form of Buddhism, “natural purity” would be associated with “non-ego”, but in a different sense, the term svabhāva is commonly found in Madhyamaka oriented Buddhist writings. For example in the term niḥsvabhāva, often used as a synonym for nairātmya, anātman or “non-ego”, it indicates exactly the opposite, that is svabhāva only as conditional reality, or in HPB’s corresponding terminology, pravṛtti as opposed to nivṛtti.

The Book of Dzyan on the other hand explicitly describes svabhāva as going through the two different stages: 1. nivṛitti, when “darkness alone was […] svabhâvât” (“in paramārtha”, absolute reality), and 2. pravṛtti, when svabhāva is prakṛti, the basic substance of the manifested universe, that is conditional reality.

6. Hodgson’s Essays

On p. 73 of Brian Houghton Hodgson’s Essays on the Languages, Literature and Religion of Nepal and Tibet (1874) we find a list of principles from the “Svabhavika doctrine”, the first of which appears to be a translation of the Svabhāva Mantra:

All things are governed or perfected by Swabháva; I too am governed by Swabháva.

This is again a very different translation, where śuddha is taken as “governed/perfected by”. David N. Gellner responds to this in his 1989 article Hodgson’s Blind Alley? On the So-Called Schools of Nepalese Buddhism, calling it a misunderstanding of the term svabhāvaśuddha, which he translates as “free of essence”.

The “Ashta Sáhasrika” is given by Hodgson as a reference, but I have not found the mantra literally in the text of the Aṣṭasāhasrikāprajñāpāramitā. Some similar passages are to be found in the text, of which the following is an example (Edward Conze’s translation p. 250 and Sanskrit from ed. Vaidya p. 211, my (IdB’s) comments in square brackets):

Subhuti: But if, O Lord, as we all know, all dharmas [Skt. sarvadharmāḥ] are by nature perfectly pure [Skt. prakṛtipariśuddhāḥ], […]

The Lord: So it is, Subhuti. For all dharmas [sarvadharmāḥ] are just by (their essential original) nature perfectly pure [Skt. prakṛtyaiva pariśuddhāḥ]. When a Bodhisattva who trains in perfect wisdom […] remains uncowed although all dharmas [Skt. sarvadharmeṣu] are by their nature perfectly pure [Skt. prakṛtipariśuddheṣu], then that is his perfection of wisdom [Skt. prajñāpāramitāyāṃ].

Here we see that instead of svabhāvaśuddha (Reigle: pure by nature) the compound prakṛtipariśuddha (Conze, 2nd ed. 1975: by nature perfectly pure) is used in the same sense, reflecting the semantic agreement between svabhāva and prakṛti.

Further, the Tibetan version in the Derge Kanjur (Toh. 12) shows how the compound was analysed by the lotsavas of the Aṣṭasāhasrikāprajñāpāramitā: it was taken as rang bzhin gyis yongs su dag pa, which is “completely pure by nature”, as opposed to “free of essence”.

7. Prasannapadā and Mūlamadhyamakakārikā

In Candrakīrti’s Prasannapadā (PsP), we find a lengthy discussion of the concept of svabhāva. In the 1931 partial edition of Stanisław Schayer, Ausgewählte Kapitel…, in an extensive note on pages 55-57, four different meanings of svabhāva are distinguished (paraphrased IdB):

  1. Svabhāva as “nījam ātmīyam svarūpam”, an “essential” as opposed to “accidental” quality, like the hotness of fire. This is an idea compatible with Hīnayāna pluralism.
  2. Svabhāva as svalakṣaṇa, the own individual mark which is carried by the individual substrate of a dharma. The Hīnayānists are called Svabhāvavādins in the sense that they accept a manyfold of these individual substances (pluralism).
  3. Svabhāva as equivalent of prakṛti, of upādāna [[material cause]] and of āśraya [[basis of perception]], of the unchanging, eternal substrate of all changes. In the Hīnayāna schools, the Vaibhāṣikas accept this view, while the Sautrāntikas agree with the Mādhyamikas at this point, calling a transcendental lakṣya [[characteristic]] completely illusory. [[But being Hīnayāna schools, both of these are considered pluralist.]]
  4. Svabhāvaḥ as “svato bhāvaḥ”, the absolute being, “nirapekṣaḥ svabhāvaḥ”. The universe as “one and whole” is absolute. This idea is not compatible with Hīnayānist pluralism.

In the third and fourth points we may recognise concepts similar, both in a different way, to the svabhāva presented in the Book of Dzyan. In the text of the PsP, chapter XV § 2 (Schayer § 5 p. 63, cp. Vaidya ed. p. 116) the third point is analysed as follows (tr. from German IdB):

yā sā dharmāṇāṃ dharmatā nāma, saiva tatsvarūpam | atha keyaṃ dharmāṇāṃ dharmatā? dharmāṇāṃ svabhāvaḥ | ko ‘yaṃ svabhāvaḥ? prakṛtiḥ | kā ceyaṃ prakṛtiḥ? yeyaṃ śūnyatā | keyaṃ śūnyatā? naiḥsvābhāvyam | kimidaṃ naiḥsvābhāvyam? tathatā | keyaṃ tathatā? tathābhāvo ‘vikāritvaṃ sadaiva sthāyitā | sarvathānutpāda eva

Diese Eigenwesen [[tatsvarūpam]] ist die dharmatā der dharmas. — Und was ist die dharmatā der dharmas? — Der svabhāva der dharmas. — Und was ist dieser svabhāva? — Die prakṛti. — Und was ist diese prakṛti? — Die śūnyatā. — Und was ist diese śūnyatā? — Das naiḥsvābhāvya. — Und was is dieses naiḥsvābhāvya? — Die tathatā, d.h. die Unwandelbarkeit der wahren Beschaffenheit (tathābhāvāvikāritva), das ewige Beharren [in seinem An-sich-Sein] (sadā sthāyitā), das absolute Nicht-entstehen (sarvadānutpāda).

This own essence [[tatsvarūpam]] is the “entitiness” of entities. And what is the “entitiness” of entities? It is the svabhāva of entities. And what is this svabhāva? It is its basic material. And what is this basic material? It is emptiness. And what is this emptiness? It is the fundamental absence of svabhāva. And what is this fundamental absence of svabhāva? It is thusness, that is the unique property of the true being-thus, the eternal fixedness [in its being per se], the absolute non-origination.

To Candrakriti this line of reasoning proves that svabhāva cannot exist as a basic substance in which (or on the basis of which) change is taking place. The reasoning is based on Nāgārjuna’s Mūlamadhyamakakārikā (MMK) XV.8, to which this PsP passage is a commentary (tr. Mark Siderits and Shōryū Katsura, 2013):

yady astitvaṃ prakṛtyā syān na bhaved asya nāstitā |
prakṛter anyathābhāvo na hi jātūpapadyate ||

If something existed by essential nature (prakṛti), then there would not be the nonexistence of such a thing. For it never holds that there is the alteration of essential nature.

8. Conclusions

The examples discussed here, from the Anugītā, the Mahāvyutpatti, the Svabhāva Mantra and the Prasannapadā/Mūlamadhyamakakārikā, do not sufficiently show that the term svabhāva has been used, in original Hindu or Buddhist texts, not only in the sense of an “inherent nature”, but also in the sense of “substance”. In the Book of Dzyan it is described primarily as “substance”.

In Buddhism, pluralism is generally associated with Hīnayāna and monism with Mahāyāna. We have seen that in Buddhist texts another distinction of two senses of the word svabhāva may be recognised: in the svabhāva mantra we have found the term svabhāva as “fundamentally pure”, while the part svabhāva in the “doctrine of niḥsvabhāva” is used as exactly the opposite. We can define these two senses of the svabhāva as nivṛtti and pravṛtti respectively. In the Book of Dzyan, svabhāva is described primarily as “monistic”, but going through the nivṛtti and pravṛtti phases of manifestation. This may imply that svabhāva is in these two phases “monistic” and “pluralistic” respectively. •


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The Great Breath

By Ingmar de Boer on June 23, 2020 at 10:59 am

Motion as an Aspect of the Absolute

In SD I, 43 we find the following statement on the absolute:

The appearance and disappearance of the Universe are pictured as an outbreathing and inbreathing of “the Great Breath,” which is eternal, and which, being Motion, is one of the three aspects of the Absolute — Abstract Space and Duration being the other two.

We could represent the information given here on the absolute in a diagram like this:

Defining the standard circular order as “clockwise”, this diagram becomes an unambiguous representation of the three aspects of the Absolute.

In The Mahatma Letters to A.P. Sinnet (ML) we also find remarks to the effect that the Great Breath, or Motion is eternal for example in ML No. XXII (Barker):

Motion is eternal because spirit is eternal. But no modes of motion can ever be conceived unless they be in connection with matter.

It may be interesting to see that Aristotle formulated thoughts similar to the one in SD I, 43, for example in paragraph 12.1071b of his Metaphysica (translation from W.D. Ross’ 1924 edition):

But motion cannot be either generated or destroyed, for it always existed; nor can time, because there can be no priority or posteriority if there is no time. Hence as time is continuous, so too is motion; for time is either identical with motion or an affection of it. But there is no continuous motion except that which is spatial, of spatial motion only that which is circular.

Now in the diagram and the quotation from the SD, the therm abstract space is mentioned. As a preparation for a deeper analysis of the concept of motion, or great breath in the SD, we could start by investigating the concept of abstraction.

Abstract Space, Noumenon and Phenomenon

The terms noumenon (Gr. νοούμενον) and phenomenon (Gr. φαινόμενον) were typically used by Plato to distinguish between the world of ideas (noumenal) and the sensory world (phenomenal). Another typical location where can find a discussion of these two terms is in Immanuel Kant’s Kritik der Reinen Vernunft. (1781) He uses the terms in relation to the different types of knowledge he distinguishes, a priori knowledge (before perception, pure, “rein”) and a posteriori knowledge (after perceiving, empirical). In the HPB’s Theosophical Glossary (TG) the term noumenon is defined as: “The true essential nature of being as distinguished from the illusive objects of sense”, confirming we are on the right track.

Throughout the SD, these two terms are used in a specific way, in line with Plato, where the abstract unmanifested idea of any manifested phenomenon is its noumenon. The unmanifested stage of the origination of the universe is usually called pralaya and the manifested stage is called manvantara. Other terms for these stages we may encounter are the nivṛtti and pravṛtti stage. These two stages are also indicated by the terms noumenal and phenomenal respectively. An example of this may be found in SD I, 62:

[Esoteric philosophy] divides boundless duration into unconditionally eternal and universal Time and a conditioned one (Khandakala). One is the abstraction or noumenon of infinite time (Kala); the other its phenomenon appearing periodically, as the effect of Mahat (the Universal Intelligence limited by Manvantaric duration).

In the SD, infinite time (kāla) is called duration, as opposed to “broken time” (khandakāla) which is simply called time. In stanza I śloka 2 “Time was not, for it lay asleep in the infinite bosom of duration.” These two, duration and time, relate as a noumenon and its phenomenon. The entire genesis of the universe described in the Book of Dzyan may be seen as the process (if we may call it that) of noumena turning into their respective phenomena. This process is often referred to by the term ideation.

Another example of specific use of word may be seen in this fragment, in the word abstraction. If something is called the noumenon of a certain phenomenon, then is called its abstraction. The word abstract is used quite often in the SD, and it is used in this way in defining several of its central concepts. In the explanation of the first fundamental proposition for example, is spoken of absolute abstract space (SD I, 14):

This “Be-ness” is symbolised in the Secret Doctrine under two aspects. On the one hand, absolute abstract Space, representing bare subjectivity, the one thing which no human mind can either exclude from any conception, or conceive of by itself. On the other, absolute Abstract Motion representing Unconditioned Consciousness.

In the term absolute abstract Space, the word abstract refers to the noumenon, that is the unmanifested abstraction of our manifested space (including its different “levels”). Abstract Space extends infinitely to every possible dimension, while its phenomenal counterpart is limited to the portion which we can perceive through our senses or imagine within the limitations of our mind.

Absolute Time

Realising that the word abstract indicates that we are speaking about the noumenal counterparts of our worldly space, time and motion, as they are in the nivṛtti stage of evolution, the cosmic night, we can ask ourselves why does HPB use this term absolute (the adjective) in relation to space, time and motion, where does it come from, and is it referring to any area of study which could help clarify these fundamental terms in the SD? If we are to trace the origin of the use of the word absolute in this sense, we may see that Isaac Newton in his Principia was the first who used it, applying it to space, place, time and motion, in his first Scholium. Also the term duration is used in the Scholium, which may be seen as another indication that HPB, in using these terms, was most probably referring to this text implicitly.

Newton’s Philosophiae Naturalis Principia Mathematica consists of three separate Books preceded by a Preface, Definitions and Axioms (the Laws of Motion), and followed by a General Scholium. In the three books, applications of the Laws of Motion are demonstrated. At the end of Definitions and Axioms respectively, there are again Scholia where more specific information and discussion on the subject matter is given.

In the Scholium to the Definitions, in the 1999 edition by I. Bernhard Cohen and Anne Whitman, “assisted by Julia Budenz” found on pages 54-61, it is specified what is understood by the basic terms time (1), space (2), place (3) and motion (4). Newton distinguishes absolute and relative time, true and apparent time, mathematical and common time, absolute and relative space, absolute and relative place and absolute and relative motion. Based on the third Latin edition of 1726, first we can set up a table to show the meaning of the attributes of time:

Tempus absolutum, verum, & mathematicum, in se & natura sua sine relatione ad externum quodvis, aequabiliter fluit, alioque nomine dicitur duratio: Relativum, apparens, & vulgare est sensibilis & externa quaevis durationis per motum mensura (seu accurata seu inaequabilis) qua vulgus vice veri temporis utitur; ut hora, dies, mensis, annus.

Tempus absolutum,Relativum,absolute or relative
verum,apparens,true or apparent
& mathematicum,& vulgaremathematical or common
in seest sensibilisin itself or perceived
& natura sua sine relatione ad externum quodvis,& externa quaevis durationis per motum mensurawithout relation to anything external or measured by external movement
aequabiliter fluit,(seu accurata seu inaequabilis)flowing evenly or accurate/inaccurate
alioque nomine dicitur duratio
otherwise called duration

So in the Scholium, duration is described as time which is absolute, true and mathematical, that is, 1. it is “in itself” (noumenal), 2. without relation to anything external and 3. flowing evenly. Modern physics may suggest (for example in the early 20th century through Ernst Mach) that this sort of time does not exist, but apparently this idea is one of the corner stones of Newton’s work. On closer observation however, it will be clear that without this basic idea, the edifice of modern physics would collapse as well.

We could ask outselves now, if Newton’s concept of duration is the same as the one used in the SD, or are they perhaps mutually exclusive. (There is no direct reference to the Principia in the SD on this.) We can now return to SD I, 37 where we find one of the most well-known lines from the Book of Dzyan, describing the state of time in the cosmic night of the universe, and the first line of HPB’s commentary on it:


(a) Time is only an illusion produced by the succession of our states of consciousness as we travel through eternal duration, and it does not exist where no consciousness exists in which the illusion can be produced; but “lies asleep.”

The succession of states of consciousness is of course khandakāla, “broken time”, the phenomenon, while eternal duration is kāla, its noumenon. The noumenon is here the true essential nature of time, as opposed to “broken time”, the illusive object of the senses (or limited mind). (TG) HPB’s duration is therefore without relation to anything external or measured by external movement, while “broken time” is perceptual, and therefore dependent on the consciousness of the observer. In this respect this polarity is certainly equal to Newton’s distinguishment of “in itself” and “perceived”, and perhaps also equal to “true” and “apparent”. If we take the terms absolute and relative in their strongest sense they also express unconditional (kāla) and conditional (khandakāla) time.

Speaking of duration however, Newton speaks of “mathematical” time, “flowing evenly” and “accurately”, and later in the Scholium, he states that the difference between absolute and relative time is the “equation of time” (aequatio temporis). This is an astronomical term and method (which the modern translators were not clear enough about in their translation), determining the aritmetic difference between apparent and mean solar time, determining of which was one of the main problems of reckoning time in his days. Newton refers to the “experiment of the pendulum clock”, which was described in Christiaan Huygens’ 1673 work Horologium Oscillatorium (The Pendulum Clock: or geometrical demonstrations concerning the motion of pendula as applied to clocks). Newton uses the same terms “absolute time” and “duration” for the time measured by the pendulum clock and the eclipses of the satellites of Jupiter as for the absolute time which is “in se”, or without relation to anything external or measured by external movement. In his time he had no reason to suspect that many similar differences would be found in the centuries ahead. In this respect HPB’s and Newton’s absolute time are not the same. We may, however, suppose that Newton intended absolute time to be “in se”, in which case he had the same intention as HPB.

If we approach the idea of Newton’s noumenal time in a meditative way, it shows itself as HPB’s primordial aspect of the universe. Vice versa, if we read HPB’s proem to the SD with Newton’s view of duration in mind, as time “flowing equally”, the text becomes much clearer. Another clue may be found in the well-known diagram of meditation which HPB dictated to E.T. Sturdy in 1887 for the benefit of some of her pupils. The first line of this meditative excercise is “First conceive of Unity by expansion in Space and infinite in Time Either with or without self-identification at first”. Further down in the diagram it is said: “Acquisition is completed by conception ‘I am all Space & Time.'” (Spelling and grammar for the two lines are conform the original document.) The exercise is apparently designed to bring our consciousness from the plane of phenomenal space and time, to the state of noumenal, absolute space and time, to enable us to look at ourselves and our actions from this universal perspective.

Absolute Space, Place and Motion

The second point in the Scholium is about Space, where Newton distinguishes again between Absolute and Relative Space. Absolute Space is defined as 1. “natura sua sine relatione ad externum quodvis”, the nature of which is without relation to anything external, and 2. “semper manet similare & immobile”, always remains the same and unmoving. Again the word Absolute is used in the same way as in the SD, it is “in se”, without reference to anything else. Place is the part of space that a body occupies, and the definition of Absolute Place is derived from that of Absolute Space. The third point in the Scholium states (paraphrase): if a Place is described with reference to Absolute Space it is Absolute, otherwise it is Relative. The definition of Absolute Motion is again derived from that of Absolute Place. The fourth point in the Scholium states: Absolute Motion is the change of position of a body from one Absolute Place to another; Relative Motion is change of position from one Relative Place to another.

We may try to compare the terms Motion as they are used in the Principia and the SD. In (another location in) the Principia, Motion is defined as displacement, “translatio corporis”. In the Definitions, “Quantity of Motion” is defined as “a measure of motion that arises from the velocity and the quantity of matter jointly”, which is what we would now call momentum. Newton uses the term “vis insita” (“inherent force”), for the “force of inertia”, which could now be called potential energy. The terms vis viva and vis insita were first used by his contemporary Gottfried Wilhelm von Leibniz who in his ideas on motion was primarily focussed on energy rather than momentum. As we will see later, the term energy is not used in its modern sense until the first half of the nineteenth century.

In the SD, the ideas of motion, force, momentum and energy are not distinguished as strictly as they are in physics today. For example, the debate on “Modes of Motion“, which we will discuss in our next paragraph, is all about mechanical work, or energy. Later in the SD, the forces of nature are discussed, among which are light, heat, electricity, magnetism, etc. However, from the fact that Motion is preserved during the cosmic night, it may be inferred that HPB’s Motion cannot be Newton’s motion (displacement) or force (cause of change of motion). That leaves us with momentum and energy, since they are both “conserved”, or time-invariant. For the time being we can leave this question undecided, but it may be clear that in the case of Motion, as opposed to Space and Time, the term Absolute Motion in the SD is different from Absolute Motion in Newton’s Principia. Perhaps it is necessary to find out more on the concept of Motion in the SD.

Motion in Late Nineteenth-Century Physics

In a series of lectures in 1842 and 1843 and his book of 1846, The Correlation of Physical Forces, Sir William Robert Grove argued that thinking of for example electricity and magnetism as immaterial “fluids” or imponderabilia as they were called then, was incorrect. An example of such a fluid was “phlogiston”, the hypothetical fluid supposedly responsible for the carrying heat, for example from fire to different objects. Grove proposed that these fluids were actually “affections of matter” and not separate physical entities, and presented the idea that these different affections were quantatively related, or as he defined it, “correlated”. The fluids, imponderabilia and correlations of forces are mentioned many times in the SD. This idea may be considered an early formulation of the first law of thermodynamics, which states that the energy in a closed thermodynamical system is conserved. The concept of energy as a measure of mechanical work was not generally in use until William Thomson (later Lord Kelvin) in 1851 published his article On the dynamical theory of heat, were he was able to combine and adapt existing ideas to establish the foundations of thermodynamics. In 1884-1888 however, when HPB was working on the SD, the discussion on the nature of several other phenomena as forces of nature, differentiated from one source was far from being over.

Since the publication in 1868 of John Tyndall’s book Heat Considered as a Mode of Motion, where he showed that heat is in relation to matter “a motion of its ultimate particles”, the idea grew that, besides heat, other phenomena like electricity, magnetism or sound, could perhaps also be considered forms or modes of motion. The term motion indicates here again, that heat may be measured in terms of the quantity of mechanical work which could be produced by it, for example in an ideal heat engine. In many places in the SD, HPB argues against the modes of motion, in favour of the occultist view of intelligent life as the cause behind every manifested physical force. In SD I, 147 we find an illustration of this:

The Occultists […] assert that all the so-called Forces of Nature, Electricity, Magnetism, Light, Heat, etc., etc., far from being modes of motion of material particles, are in esse […] the differentiated aspects of that Universal Motion which is discussed and explained in the first pages of this volume (See Proem).

The Universal Motion HPB speaks of here, is one of the three aspects of the Absolute which we have seen in our earlier quote from SD I, 43. How exactly we should interpret this concept of Motion is perhaps not immediately clear from this, but still this fragment provides us with some interesting directions. Apparently HPB agrees with the idea of many of the scholars of her time that electricity, magnetism, light, heat, etc. may be unified under a larger concept. In our time this is not thought to be completely evident, as a theory unifiying all different types of force, or interactions, is yet to be found. The representation of electricity, magnetism etc. primarily as forces of nature, that is, describing them only in terms of mechanical work, could now be seen as an oversimplification of these complex phenomena. In the modes of motion discussion, the central concept is mechanical work, energy, but it is still unclear if with motion in the SD is meant energy, or perhaps momentum. Important is however that because Motion is seen as an aspect of the Absolute, it is preserved in pralaya. Like Abstract Space, Motion exists in both the nivṛtti and pravṛtti stages of the universe. In more modern terms we could say that this Motion is subject to a conservation law, or is invariant with time.

Six Primary Forces in Nature

To be able to connect the “modes of motion” to other key concepts in the SD, further down the analytical tree, we have to return to stanza IV from the Book of Dzyan, and its commentary (SD I, 86-87), where the term Sons of Fire is explained.

These are all names of various deities which preside over the Cosmo-psychic Powers. […] They are:– “The Sons of Fire” — because they are the first beings […] evolved from Primordial Fire.

In SD I, 88, stanza IV continues:



The distinction between the “Primordial” and the subsequent seven Builders is this: The former are the Ray and direct emanation of the first “Sacred Four,” the Tetraktis, that is, the eternally Self-Existent One (Eternal in Essence note well, not in manifestation, and distinct from the universal ONE). Latent, during Pralaya, and active, during Manvantara, the “Primordial” proceed from “Father-Mother” (Spirit-Hyle, or Ilus); whereas the other manifested Quaternary and the Seven proceed from the Mother alone. It is the latter who is the immaculate Virgin-Mother, […]

Please note that in this article we are discussing the second seven, born from the primordial flame, the “Sons of Fire”, and not the primordial seven. This second group is said to be born “from the Mother alone”, which is the immaculate virgin-mother, about which many examples are given in the SD about the mystery of the immaculate birth in different religious and philosophical traditions. One of these examples we find in the Virgin-Mother as Kanya (Shakti), or Durga-Kanya, the sixth sign of the zodiac, which takes us to the passage in SD I, 292, quoted from T. Subba Row’s article The Twelve Signs of the Zodiac, where the six “modes of motion”, the six primary forces in nature, are described as the six shaktis (śakti), summarised in their seventh, which is fohat. In an earlier article, Kāraṇa, the Causeless Cause, we have found that Motion is identical with kāraṇa, and that the terms dzyu and fohat are used in the SD to indicate the nivṛtti and pravṛtti aspects of motion respectively. To not complicate things unneccessarily here, we can refrain from elaborating upon the Virgin-Mother, the six primary forces, the shaktis and fohat.

Now our consciously naive analytical method, of starting out with only the SD volumes I & II and works referred to, then in second place consulting other works by HPB and writings directly connected to the masters of wisdom, and then perhaps in third place other theosophical works, may sometimes surprise us with new information in later stages of our investigation. In this case, in CW XII, 620, the Esoteric Instructions, we find the following:

In The Secret Doctrine it is almost revealed that the “Sons of Fohat” are the personified forces known, in a general way as Motion, Sound, Heat, Light, Cohesion, Electricity (or Electric) Fluid, and Nerve Force (or Magnetism). This truth, however, cannot teach the student to attune and moderate the Kundalini of the Cosmic plane with the vital Kundalini, the Electric Fluid with the Nerve Forces, and unless he does so, he is sure to kill himself; for the one travels at the rate of about 90 feet, and the other at the rate of 115,000 leagues a second. The seven Śaktis respectively called Para Śakti, Jnâna-Śakti, etc., etc., are synonymous with the “Sons of Fohat,” for they are their female aspects. At the present stage, however, as their names would only be confusing to the Western student, it is better to remember the English equivalents as translated above.

This fragment suggests that the seven forces of nature are the ones mentioned, but of course we still do not know for certain their correct relations with the six shakti’s. What we do know, or may derive from it, is that HPB has made our task more difficult than neccessary in the first two volumes of the SD because she, and perhaps her guides, thought that giving out the complete knowledge on this subject might have been too dangerous and confusing at that time. As we know, the Esoteric Instructions were written for circulation among a small group of her pupils, but were in 1897 posthumously published in SD volume III. For our purpose though, with this, we will have enough information to try to connect our findings to the field of contemporary physics in a later stage. We may conclude our analysis with a summary of the six or seven “forces” in the form of a still fragmentary table:

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Category: Cosmogenesis, Great Breath, Motion, Space | No comments yet


Panchen Lama, Book of Dzyan, and Kālacakra

By David Reigle on May 31, 2020 at 11:58 pm

            The “Book of Dzyan” is said to be “the first volume of the Commentaries upon the seven secret folios of Kiu-te”:

“The Book of Dzyan . . . is the first volume of the Commentaries upon the seven secret folios of Kiu-te, and a Glossary of the public works of the same name. Thirty-five volumes of Kiu-te for exoteric purposes and the use of the laymen may be found in the possession of the Tibetan Gelugpa Lamas, in the library of any monastery; and also fourteen books of Commentaries and Annotations on the same by the initiated Teachers.” (“The Secret Books of ‘Lam-rim’ and Dzyan,” H. P. Blavatsky, Collected Writings, vol. 14, p. 422)

These fourteen volumes of commentaries are said to be “in the charge of the Teshu-Lama of Shigatse,” i.e., the Panchen Lama:

“Strictly speaking, those thirty-five books ought to be termed ‘The Popularised Version’ of the Secret Doctrine, full of myths, blinds, and errors; the fourteen volumes of Commentaries, on the other hand—with their translations, annotations, and an ample glossary of Occult terms, worked out from one small archaic folio, the Book of the Secret Wisdom of the World—contain a digest of all the Occult Sciences. These, it appears, are kept secret and apart, in the charge of the Teshu-Lama of Shigatse.” (H. P. Blavatsky, Collected Writings, vol. 14, p. 422)

The known “Books of Kiu-te,” i.e., rgyud-sde, are the Buddhist tantras. It is further said that these “must be read with a key to their meaning, and that key can only be found in the Commentaries”:

“The Books of Kiu-te are comparatively modern, having been edited within the last millennium, whereas, the earliest volumes of the Commentaries are of untold antiquity, some fragments of the original cylinders having been preserved. With the exception that they explain and correct some of the too fabulous, and to every appearance, grossly-exaggerated accounts in the Books of Kiu-te—properly so-called—the Commentaries have little to do with these. They stand in relation to them as the Chaldaeo-Jewish Kabalah stands to the Mosaic Books. . . . No student, unless very advanced, would be benefited by the perusal of those exoteric volumes. They must be read with a key to their meaning, and that key can only be found in the Commentaries.” (H. P. Blavatsky, Collected Writings, vol. 14, pp. 422-424)

            The first volume of the known “Books of Kiu-te” contains the Kālacakra-tantra. Tashi-lhunpo monastery at Shigatse had one of the few Kālacakra colleges in Tibet. It was the Ninth (sometimes called the Sixth) Panchen Lama, Lozang Chokyi Nyima (1883-1937), who gave the first large public Kālacakra Initiations outside of Tibetan Buddhist lands, thus starting something that has been so widely continued by the present Fourteenth Dalai Lama. After leaving Tibet in late 1923, the Ninth Panchen Lama gave nine large public Kālacakra Initiations. The first five were given in Mongolia, the next two in China, and the last two in Eastern Tibet.1 The two given in China, outside of Tibetan Buddhist lands, were very influential. Photos of these were taken by Westerners who attended, and have been published.2 This was the first time since the appearance of the Kālacakra teachings in India a millennium ago and their transference to Tibet shortly thereafter that anyone outside of these lands had access to these teachings.

            The Kālacakra teachings are full of abstruse symbolism and obscure statements, which could well be regarded as blinds. Although called exoteric in relation to the fourteen volumes of secret commentaries, they have always been considered esoteric in India and Tibet. According to the information given by Blavatsky, they would be directly based on the secret commentaries, and thus would be esoteric in that sense. The Panchen Lamas followed Indian and Tibetan tradition in considering them esoteric. No doubt many students would welcome having a key to their meaning, as said to only be found in the secret commentaries.

            The first installment of teachings said to be brought out from the secret commentaries was given by H. P. Blavatsky in The Secret Doctrine. She had made contact with teachers associated with a secret school, said by her to be “attached to the private retreat of the Teshu-Lama,” i.e., the Panchen Lama:

“. . . Tsong-Kha-pa. This great Tibetan Reformer of the fourteenth century, . . . is the founder of the secret School near Shigatse, attached to the private retreat of the Teshu-Lama.” (H. P. Blavatsky, Collected Writings, vol. 14, p. 425)

It is not clear whether the “private retreat” of the Panchen Lama is the same as his private residence. As seen in the post, “The Kālacakra College at Tashi-lhunpo” (April 30, 2020), the Panchen Lama “built a new house for the 22-foot square Kalacakra mandala (dkyil ‘khor) at his residence,” and the Kālacakra maṇḍala was constructed there out of colored sand every year, along with the accompanying Kālacakra ritual performed by him:

“Panchen Rinpoche built a new house for the 22-foot square Kalacakra mandala (dkyil ‘khor) at his residence. That was the biggest Dus’kor mandala in Tibet. During his time, he (Panchen Rinpoche) built that 22-foot square mandala of dultson (rdul tshon) [i.e., sand] every year and did the Dus’kor ritual. From that time onward the Dus’kor Da-tsang followed the same up to 1959.”

            The movement for the spread of the Kālacakra teachings outside of Tibetan Buddhist lands was started by the Ninth Panchen Lama four or five decades after Blavatsky’s time. Only in the last few decades have these teachings become known throughout the world, thanks to the many Kālacakra Initiations given by the present Fourteenth Dalai Lama and other Tibetan lamas. The stage has now been set for some of the keys to these teachings to come out from the secret commentaries referred to by Blavatsky.


1. Information about the nine Kālacakra Initiations given by the Ninth Panchen Lama after his departure from Tibet can be found in: Biographies of the Tibetan Spiritual Leaders: Panchen Erdenis, by Ya Hanzhang, translated by Chen Guansheng and Li Peizhu, pp. 266, 271, 274, 283-284, 295, and 296 (Beijing: Foreign Languages Press, 1994); and in: The Ninth Panchen Lama (1883-1937): A Life at the Crossroads of Sino-Tibetan Relations, by Fabienne Jagou, translated by Rebecca Bissett Buechel, pp. 65-74, and summarized in note 16, p. 259 (Paris: École Française d’Extrême-Orient, and Chiang Mai: Silkworm Books, 2011).

2. A photo of the Kālacakra maṇḍala taken by Ferdinand Lessing at the Kālacakra Initiation given in Peking (now Beijing) in 1932 can be found in: The Buddhist Tantras: Light on Indo-Tibetan Esotericism, by Alex Wayman, p. 80 (see pp. xii, 63), New York: Samuel Weiser, 1973. Photos taken by Gordon Enders at the Kālacakra Initiation given in Hangchow (Hangzhou) in 1934, including one of the Kālacakra maṇḍala, can be found in: Nowhere Else in the World, by Gordon B. Enders and Edward Anthony, pp. 311, 321, 325 (see pp. 303, 322), New York: Farrar & Rinehart, 1935.

Category: Book of Dzyan, Kalacakra, Kālacakratantra | 1 comment


The Kālacakra College at Tashi-lhunpo

By David Reigle on April 30, 2020 at 9:53 pm

            The Panchen Lamas, according to H. P. Blavatsky, were closely connected with the Theosophical Mahatmas. She says that the Panchen Lamas “are high initiates” (Theosophical Glossary, under “Panchen Rimboche”), something that Tibetans would not doubt. So what did the Panchen Lamas teach? Naturally, most of what they taught was standard Tibetan Buddhism. A text that is memorized and recited every day by most Gelugpas is the Bla ma mchod pa’i cho ga, the “Procedure for Offering to the Lama,” a guru-yoga practice. It was written by the first or fourth Panchen Lama, Blo bzang chos kyi rgyal mtshan (1570-1662). He was the first Panchen Lama to be given the title Panchen Lama, so has often been called the first Panchen Lama. However, three previous incarnations were recognized and retroactively called Panchen Lamas, so he is called the fourth Panchen Lama by his own monastery, Tashi-lhunpo.

            Beyond standard Tibetan Buddhism, the Panchen Lamas specialized in the Kālacakra teachings. The third or sixth Panchen Lama, Blo bzang dpal ldan ye shes (1738-1780), established one of the few Kālacakra colleges in Tibet at his Tashi-lhunpo monastery. The Kālacakra college monks would perform the Kālacakra ceremony every year, in which the extensive Kālacakra sand maṇḍala was constructed. Very little is known about the Kālacakra college and its course of study. So in 1982 I requested information about the Kālacakra college of Tashi-lhunpo from the re-established Tashi-lhunpo monastery in south India. At that time, there were about 20 older monks there who had been at Tashi-lhunpo in Tibet prior to 1959. Based on what they remembered, I received two accounts of this, hand-written in English by Tenzin (no other name given), of the Office of the Chodhi Tashi Lhunpo Cultural Society, Tibetan Settlement, P.O. Bylakuppe, Mysore State, India. This information should be preserved and made available. So here follow these two accounts. The Tibetan words in parentheses were given in Tibetan script in the original accounts. I have added only a few words in brackets.

April 21, 1982:

“We received your letter dated 26.3.82. You are interested in history of Kalacakra College of Tashi Lhunpo. Here in our present Tashi Lhunpo monastery there are only one or two monks who attended Kalacakra College when it was functioning in Tibet. You can know textbooks, duration [of course of study], from our following brief history of Kalacakra College of Tashi Lhunpo.


“It was about two hundred and thirty-eight years from right now that Kalacakra College of Tashi Lhunpo was established by the Sixth Panchen Lama, Palden Yeshe. But the number of college students was limited. There were only twenty-five student monks because of twenty-five Rigden Rishis.

“First they attend Tantric College of Tashi Lhunpo. There they learn the four major parts of tantric [practice], voice or tune, etc. (‘don rta dbyangs).

“Then they attend the Kalacakra College. First they memorise (‘dus ‘khor mngon rtogs mkhas sgrub zhal lung) orally and give oral test in front of Dus’kor teacher and Auze (dbu mdzad). After that they memorise Dus’kor Bumdup, Dunket, Wangchok, and Monlam Shijod orally respectively. Side by side they learn dontayang, garthik (gar thig). In short, they learn inner, outer and other Kalacakra. They gave much time to study Dus’kor delchen and Khedup Dus’kor tikchen, because these two are the most important textbooks.

“Duration: In Tibet they spend the rest of their lives in studying about Dus’kor [Kalacakra]. We guess that course will take at least 8 or 9 years to complete.

“At present, we have no such college. We hope to have it in the future.”

May 29, 1982:

“We write further information on Dus’kor Da-tsang [Kalacakra College] and its teachers or abbots as you are interested.

“It was Panchen Choeki Nyima who made the previous Dus’kor wide at the Kunsek Palace (kun gzigs pho brang) in Tashi Lhunpo approximately in 1815. Panchen Rinpoche built a new house for the 22-foot square Kalacakra mandala (dkyil ‘khor) at his residence. That was the biggest Dus’kor mandala in Tibet. During his time, he (Panchen Rinpoche) built that 22-foot square mandala of dultson (rdul tshon) [i.e., sand] every year and did the Dus’kor ritual. From that time onward the Dus’kor Da-tsang followed the same up to 1959. There were (1) Khachen Jhedung Wangyal; (2) Dungrampa Sidthar Wangdu; (3) Khachen Jhedung Dawa; (4) Ngulchu Rinpoche; (5) Aali Rinpoche; (6) Dungrampa Sidthar respectively as Dus’kor teachers or abbots (which present older monks know). In 1957, Dungrampa Sidthar was teacher of Dus’kor Da-tsang.

“Moreover, Panchen Choekyi Nyima established Dus’kors in Jhang Ngamrim (byang ngam rim) monastery, Shang Dechen Rabgye (shang bde chen rab rgyas), Thopgyal Gaden Rabgye, Gyaltse Dongtse Chodhi (rgyal rtse grong rtse chos sde) monasteries.

“Gyalwa Jampal Gyatso, the VIII Dalai Lama, came to visit Tashi Lhunpo and on the way back His Holiness took Dus’kor, Lhamo’s Doechen (lha mo’i mdos chen), Gutor cham (dgu gtor chams), and established them in Namgyal Da-tsang, the Da-tsang of His Holiness the Dalai Lama.

“Here, we are nearly seventy, 20 old and 50 young monks. Our main income is what we get from fields. It is these young monks who do work on the fields as well as studies. In these days, they have Chochud Lozen in the morning, English-Tibetan class from 10 A.M. to 12, and debating class in the evening when there is no sort of work. We can establish (sngags pa grwa tshang) [Tantric College] within four years (if we get more facilities such as more time to study and less work). After that  we can establish Dus’kor Da-tsang. So, we have to wait more years.

Tashi Delek.”

Category: Kalacakra, Kālacakratantra | 1 comment


The Panchen Lamas and the Theosophical Mahatmas

By David Reigle on March 31, 2020 at 11:33 pm

            Several references to the relation between the two main Theosophical Mahatmas and the then Panchen Lama are found scattered in the Theosophical writings. Some years ago, Daniel Caldwell collected these and sent them to a few friends. The quotations given below are taken from this (adding one by Boris de Zirkoff). Note that the Panchen Lama was usually referred to in these writings as the Teshu Lama, i.e., the Tashi Lama, after his monastery at Shigatse, Tashi-lhunpo.

“There is beyond the Himalayas a nucleus of these Adepts, of various nationalities, and the Teshu Lama knows them, and they act together, and some of them are with him and yet remain unknown in their true character even to the average lamas—who are ignorant fools mostly. My Master [Morya] and KH [Koot Hoomi] and several others I know personally are there, coming and going, and they are all in communication with Adepts in Egypt and Syria, and even in Europe.” (H. P. Blavatsky, letter to Franz Hartmann, 1886, published in The Path, March 1896, p. 370)

“. . . my venerated GURU DEVA [Koot Hoomi] who holds a well-known public office in Tibet, under the TESHU LAMA.” (Damodar K. Mavalankar, Dâmodar and the Pioneers of the Theosophical Movement, compiled and annotated by Sven Eek, 1965, p. 340)

“. . . the Tashi Lama (whose Master of Ceremonies one of our own revered Mahatmas is).” (Henry Steel Olcott, Old Diary Leaves, Fourth Series, p. 6)

“Koot Hoomi . . . is the relic-bearer to the Teshu-Lama, an office in Thibet resembling that—say of Cardinal-Vicar, in the Roman Catholic Church. . . .” (draft copy of the “First Report” of the Society for Psychical Research on H. P. Blavatsky, October 1884, p. 16)

“Master M.: Was (or is) a high official with the Teshu Lama in Tibet, a hutuhtu, or ‘bearer (or carrier) of sacred things,’ in the sense of relics. So says Vera P. Zhelihovsky [Blavatsky’s sister], who tells of having heard this from HPB [H. P. Blavatsky] many times. See her words in Russkoy Obozreniye, VI, Nov., 1891, p. 292, footnote.” (Boris de Zirkoff, Blavatskaiana, Historical Index, vol. 3)

The nearest thing to the office described above would probably be the chöpön (mchod dpon), “head/chief/master/overseer of offerings/worship/ceremonies/religious services,” who could thus be called the master of ceremonies. Daniel Caldwell went on to note this passage from the Mahatma Letters:

“In about a week—new religious ceremonies, new glittering bubbles to amuse the babes with, and once more I will be busy night and day, morning, noon, and evening.” (The Mahatma Letters to A. P. Sinnett, letter #16, 2nd edition, p. 116; 3rd edition, p. 113; chronological edition letter #68, p. 203)

This letter is undated. Daniel determined, by way of a reference in this letter saying “Olcott is on his way to Lanka,” that it was probably written June 27 or 28, 1882, since Olcott left Bombay for Sri Lanka on June 27 and arrived in Colombo on June 30.

Daniel then found a reference to a major ceremony that was held at Tashi-lhunpo starting on June 30, 1882. It is from Tibetan Buddhism: With Its Mystic Cults, Symbolism and Mythology, and in Its Relation to Indian Buddhism, by L. Austine Waddell, 1895, p. 508:

“During this feast many of the monks encamp in tents, and colossal pictures are displayed. Thus at Tashi-lhunpo the pictures are hung from the great tower named Kiku. At this festival, held there on June 30th, 1882, Lāma Ugyen Gyats’o informs us, a great picture of Dipaṁkara Buddha was displayed about a hundred feet long, in substitution for pictures of the previous days. Next day it was replaced by one of Ṣākya Muni and the past Buddhas, and the following day by one of Maitreya (Jam-pa).”

This is certainly suggestive of the Mahatma K.H. being there and acting as master of ceremonies. Of course, the officials in the Panchen Lama’s court were all Tibetans, while the Mahatma K.H. is said to be an Indian, specifically a Kashmiri. More on this in another post.

Category: Uncategorized | No comments yet


The Germ in the Root

By David Reigle on February 29, 2020 at 2:35 pm

            “The Occult Catechism contains the following questions and answers:

What is it that ever is? ” “Space, the eternal Upapāduka.”* “What is it that ever was? ” “The Germ in the Root.” “What is it that is ever coming and going? ” “The Great Breath.” “Then, there are three Eternals? ” “No, the three are one. That which ever is is one, that which ever was is one, that which is ever being and becoming is also one: and this is Space.

The Secret Doctrine, vol. 1, p. 11.

*Meaning “parentless” says the footnote in The Secret Doctrine. I have changed the incorrect Anupadaka to the correct Upapāduka.1

            As previously identified by comparison with parallel passages in the Buddhist scriptures, the word “space” used in this Catechism is a translation of Sanskrit dhātu.2 This then allowed the word “germ” used here to be identified as a translation of Sanskrit gotra, through the central usage of these two terms in the key text, Ratna-gotra-vibhāga. The Sanskrit gotra has three main meanings in Buddhist usage, as given by D. Seyfort Ruegg:3 1. mine, matrix; 2. family, clan, lineage; 3. germ, seed. Since no single English word has these three meanings, a translator must choose one of them. The first translator of the Ratna-gotra-vibhāga into English, E. Obermiller (1931), chose “germ,” as did the second translator, Jikido Takasaki (1966). Likewise, the first translator into German of parts of this text, Erich Frauwallner (1956), used the German word for germ, “Keimes.” Later translators of this text into English have used “[buddha-] potential” (Kenneth and Katia Holmes 1985), “disposition” (Rosemary Fuchs 2000, Karl Brunnholzl 2014), and “spiritual potential” (Bo Jiang 2017). The normal Tibetan translation of gotra is rigs, choosing the “lineage,” or “family” meaning. Thus, “lineage” was used in a book on the Ratnagotravibhāga by S. K. Hookham (The Buddha Within, 1991), and “spiritual lineage” was used in the English translation of the Bodhisattva-bhūmi by Artemus Engle (The Bodhisattva Path to Unsurpassed Enlightenment, 2016). In the material selected here for translation, I will use “germ” for gotra.

            The germ is one, but is spoken of as many:

dharma-dhātor asambhedād gotra-bhedo na yujyate |
ādheya-dharma-bhedāt tu tad-bhedaḥ parigīyate || 39 ||

Abhisamayālaṃkāra by Maitreya, chapter 1, verse 39.

39. Because the dharma-dhātu is without division, division of the germ is not tenable. But due to the division of the dharmas that are based [on the dhātu], the division of it [the germ] is spoken of.

The word dharma-dhātu has been translated as the realm or basic space of the dharmas (“phenomena,” the “elements of existence”), following the Tibetan translation of dhātu in this compound as dbyings (“realm” or “basic space”). There is another Tibetan translation of dhātu as khams, giving its other main meaning, “element.” As used in the Ratna-gotra-vibhāga, which teaches the one “element,” dhātu is translated as khams. So while the Theosophical teachers used “space” for dhātu in the Catechism, they also spoke of the one “element,” thus using both meanings of dhātu. Here in this verse from the Abhisamayālaṃkāra, the word dharma-dhātu can be understood as the basic space of the dharmas, or as the basic element of the dharmas. The germ or gotra is equated with the dhātu (see below). So since the dhātu is one or without division, the germ must also be one or without division. But since the dharmas that are based on the dhātu are many, so the germ or gotra is spoken of as many.

            The germ is of two kinds:

tatra gotraṃ katamat | samāsato gotraṃ dvi-vidham | prakṛti-sthaṃ samudānītaṃ ca |

Bodhisattva-bhūmi, Unrai Wogihara edition, vol. 1, p. 3; Nalinaksha Dutt edition, p. 2.

What is the germ (gotra)? In brief, the germ is twofold: naturally abiding and developed.

gotraṃ tad dvi-vidhaṃ jñeyaṃ nidhāna-phala-vṛkṣa-vat |
anādi-prakṛti-sthaṃ ca samudānītam uttaram || 149 ||

Ratnagotravibhāga, chapter 1, verse 149.

149. The germ is to be known as twofold, like a treasure and a fruit tree; naturally abiding without beginning, and later developed.

The germ or gotra has always existed, from time without beginning. In this sense it is called “naturally abiding” or “abiding by nature” (prakṛti-stha). It is likened to a treasure such as gold or gems found in the ground, that has always been there. Yet, if a person on the spiritual path eventually becomes a bodhisattva through the continued practice of virtue, we must be able to speak of development of the germ or gotra. So we may refer to the germ as “developed” (samudānīta). As such, it is likened to a fruit tree with its fruits that develop and ripen.

            The germ has three synonyms.

tat punar gotraṃ bījam ity apy ucyate | dhātuḥ prakṛtir ity api |

Bodhisattva-bhūmi, Unrai Wogihara edition, vol. 1, p. 3; Nalinaksha Dutt edition, p. 2.

The germ (gotra) is also called a seed (bīja), the element (dhātu), and nature (prakṛti).

The germ that is developed, like a seed develops into a plant, may thus be called a seed (bīja). The germ that is naturally abiding or abiding by nature can simply be called nature or natural (prakṛti). The germ as completely identified with the one element can be referred to as such, the element (dhātu). Thus we have the germ in the root.


1. For how this erroneous spelling arose, see my “Book of Dzyan Research Report, Technical Terms in Stanza I”: http://easterntradition.org/article/Book%20of%20Dzyan%20Research%20Report%201%20-%20Technical%20Terms%20in%20Stanza%201.pdf.

2. See my 2013 article, “The Book of Dzyan: The Current State of the Evidence” (Brahmavidya: The Adyar Library Bulletin, Supplement, 2013, pp. 87-120), which can be found here: http://easterntradition.org/article/Book%20of%20Dzyan%20-%20The%20Current%20State%20of%20the%20Evidence.pdf or http://easterntradition.org/article/Book%20of%20Dzyan%20-%20The%20Current%20State%20of%20the%20Evidence,%20pre-publication.pdf.

3. D. Seyfort Ruegg, “The Meanings of the Term Gotra and the Textual History of the Ratnagotravibhāga,” Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies, vol. 39, 1976, p. 354.

Category: Rootless Root | No comments yet


The One Element

By David Reigle on January 31, 2020 at 11:55 pm

“However, you will have to bear in mind (a) that we recognize but one element in Nature (whether spiritual or physical) outside which there can be no Nature since it is Nature itself, and which as the Akasa pervades our solar system, every atom being part of itself, pervades throughout space and is space in fact, . . . (b) that consequently spirit and matter are one, being but a differentiation of states not essences, . . . (c) that our notions of “cosmic matter” are diametrically opposed to those of western science. Perchance if you remember all this we will succeed in imparting to you at least the elementary axioms of our esoteric philosophy more correctly than heretofore.” (The Mahatma Letters, letter #11, 3rd ed., p. 63; chron. ed. letter #65, p. 168).

“Yes, as described in my letter—there is but one element and it is impossible to comprehend our system before a correct conception of it is firmly fixed in one’s mind. You must therefore pardon me if I dwell on the subject longer than really seems necessary. But unless this great primary fact is firmly grasped the rest will appear unintelligible. This element then is the—to speak metaphysically—one sub-stratum or permanent cause of all manifestations in the phenomenal universe.” (The Mahatma Letters, letter #15, 3rd ed., p. 89; chron. ed. letter #67, p. 182).

The one element, Sanskrit eka-dhātu, Tibetan khams gcig.

From the commentary on Ratnagotravibhāga, chapter 1, verse 12, E. H. Johnston edition, p. 13, followed by my English translation:

All because they do not know and do not see the one element.

vibandhaḥ punar abhūta-vastu-nimittârambaṇa-manasikāra-pūrvikā rāga-dveṣa-mohôtpattir anuśaya-paryutthāna-yogāt | anuśayato hi bālānām abhūtam atat-svabhāvaṃ vastu śubhâkāreṇa vā nimittaṃ bhavati rāgôtpattitaḥ | pratighâkāreṇa vā dveṣôtpattitaḥ | avidyâkāreṇa vā mohôtpattitaḥ | tac ca rāga-dveṣa-moha-nimittam ayathā-bhutam ārambaṇaṃ kurvatām ayoniśo-manasikāraś cittaṃ paryādadāti | teṣām ayoniśo-manasikāra-paryavasthita-cetasāṃ rāga-dveṣa-mohānām anyatama-kleśa-samudācāro bhavati | te tato nidānaṃ kāyena vācā manasā rāga-jam api karmâbhisaṃskurvanti | dveṣa-jam api moha-jam api karmâbhisaṃskurvanti | karmataś ca punar-janmânubandha eva bhavati | evam eṣāṃ bālānām anuśayavatāṃ nimitta-grāhiṇām ārambaṇa-caritānām ayoniśo-manasikāra-samudācārāt kleśa-samudayaḥ | kleśa-samudāyāt karma-samudayaḥ | karma-samudayāj janma-samudayo bhavati | sa punar eṣa sarvâkāra-kleśa-karma-janma-saṃkleśo bālānām ekasya dhātor yathā-bhūtam ajñānād adarśanāc ca pravartate |

“The obstruction [to seeing reality, tattva] is the arising of attraction, aversion, and delusion [the three main “afflictions,” or defilements, kleśa], due to the activation of a latent tendency toward the defilements, preceded by mental engagement or taking to mind as an object of thought the outward appearance of a thing, not as it really is. For, due to a latent tendency toward the defilements on the part of the spiritually immature, a thing not as it really is, i.e., not having the inherent nature of that thing, becomes an outward appearance in the form of something beautiful, due to the arising of attraction. Or in the form of something repugnant, due to the arising of aversion. Or in the form of something wrongly known, due to the arising of delusion. And for those taking as an object of thought that outward appearance resulting from attraction, aversion, and delusion, not as the thing really is, the incorrect mental engagement takes over the mind. For those whose minds are taken over by incorrect mental engagement, there comes about the manifestation or operation of any one of the defilements: attraction, aversion, or delusion. Because of that, they perform actions by body, speech, and mind, born from attraction. Also born from aversion, also born from delusion, they perform actions. And due to actions, there certainly comes about the succession of rebirths. In this way for these spiritually immature people, who have latent tendencies toward the defilements, who apprehend outward appearances, who go with them as objects of thought, due to the operation of incorrect mental engagement the defilements arise. Due to the arising of defilements, actions arise. Due to the arising of actions, (re-)births arise. This very defilement by all kinds of defilements, actions, and (re-)births occurs for the spiritually immature because they do not know and do not see the one element as it really is.”

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The One Mind

By David Reigle on December 21, 2019 at 11:30 pm

This is part of an ongoing glossary of terms relating to the Book of Dzyan.

“Extracts are given from the Chinese, Tibetan, and Sanskrit translations of the original Senzar Commentaries and Glosses on the Book of Dzyan— . . . Thus, were one to translate into English, using only the substantives and technical terms as employed in one of the Tibetan and Senzar versions, Verse 1 would read as follows : . . . alone Tho-og Yinsin in night of Sun-chan and Yong-grub (Parinishpanna), . . .” (The Secret Doctrine, vol. 1, p. 23).

yinsin, yin-sin, yin sin, yih-sin, yi-hsin. The word is printed as Yinsin in The Secret Doctrine 1.23; Yin-Sin in SD Würzburg, p. 143, and in SD 1.635; Yin Sin in Mahatma Letter #15 2nd ed.; Yin-sin in ML #15 3rd ed. and chron. ed.; Yih-sin in ML #59 2nd ed.; Yi-hsin in ML #59 3rd ed. and chron. ed. This Chinese word was adopted from yih-sin in Samuel Beal’s 1871 Catena of Buddhist Scriptures from the Chinese, pp. 373, 393, 98 fn. (the change of yih-sin to yin-sin is an obvious scribal or typographical error, mistaking an “h” for an “n”). Beal’s early spelling came to be standardized as i-hsin in the once commonly used Wade-Giles system of writing Chinese words in Roman letters, and as yixin in the now more standard pinyin system. Beal understood it as the “universally diffused essence” (pp. 11, 12, 13, 14, 29, 143-144, 340, 352, 373), and the “one form of existence” (p. 373). These phrases were used in the Mahatma letters to define it.

            This Chinese term translates the Sanskrit term eka-citta, meaning the “one mind.” The teaching of the “one mind” is presented in the Buddhist scripture known in the west as The Awakening of Faith (translated by Yoshito S. Hakeda, 1967), Sanskrit Mahāyāna-śraddhotpāda, Chinese Dasheng qixin lun. It is there taught as being the all, saying that (Hakeda, p. 28): “This Mind includes in itself all states of being of the phenomenal world and the transcendental world.” Further, that (Hakeda, p. 31): “the principle of One Mind has two aspects. One is the aspect of Mind in terms of the Absolute (tathatā; Suchness), and the other is the aspect of Mind in terms of phenomena (samsara; birth and death). Each of these two aspects embraces all states of existence. Why? Because these two aspects are mutually inclusive.” The first aspect (as suchness, tathatā) is the one mind as it is in itself, described as the dharma-dhātu (“element of attributes” or “realm of phenomena”), and as being unborn and imperishable (Hakeda, p. 32). As the tathāgata-garbha (“buddha-matrix” or buddha-nature) the one mind is the ground of saṃsāra (Hakeda, p. 36), birth and death, the production and cessation of the manifested cosmos. The tathāgata-garbha has been understood by different commentators on this text as the one mind itself, the first aspect, or as production and cessation, the second aspect (Princeton Dictionary of Buddhism, under yixin). The second aspect, birth and death or production and cessation, is the one mind as the ālaya-vijñāna, the storehouse consciousness (Hakeda, p. 36) or foundational consciousness. The ever-changing ālaya-vijñāna carries the seeds (bīja) of future results (phala) produced by all actions (karma), and thus produces the manifested cosmos. The cosmos, often referred to as the three worlds or the triple world (traidhātuka), operates by way of the twelvefold chain of causation or becoming (the twelve nidānas of dependent origination, pratītya samutpāda). The teaching of the one mind and its two aspects is very succinctly put in a famous statement from the Daśabhūmika-sūtra, for which we have the original Sanskrit in both prose and verse. These two Sanskrit formulations are given here, along with my English translation:

citta-mātram idaṃ yad idaṃ traidhātukam | yāny apīmāni dvādaśa bhavāṅgāni tathāgatena prabhedaśo vyākhyātāni tāny api sarvāṇy eka-citta-samāśritāni |

(Ryuko Kondo ed., p. 98; Johannes Rahder ed. has eva instead of eka, copied in the P. L. Vaidya ed.).

“This triple world is only mind. Also these twelve limbs of becoming that were explained individually by the Buddha, all those, too, are based on the one mind.”

te citta-mātra ti traidhātukam otaranti api cā bhavāṅga iti dvādaśa eka-citte |

(Rahder/Susa ed., p. 53, verse 16; Kondo ed., p. 108, verse 6; Vaidya ed., p. 87, verse 16).

“They comprehend that the triple world is only mind, and also that the twelve limbs of becoming are within the one mind.”

References: “Nor can it well be called force since the latter is but the attribute of Yin Sin (Yin Sin or the one “Form of existence,” also Adi-Buddhi or Dharmakaya, the mystic, universally diffused essence) when manifesting in the phenomenal world of senses, namely, only your old acquaintance Fohat. . . . The initiated Brahmin calls it (Yin Sin and Fohat) Brahman and Sakti when manifesting as that force.” (Mahatma Letter #15, 2nd ed. p. 90, 3rd ed. pp. 88-89, chron. ed. #67, p. 181).

“In symbology the central point is Jivatma (the 7th principle), and hence Avalokitesvara, the Kwan-Shai-yin, the manifested “Voice” (or Logos), the germ point of manifested activity; hence, in the phraseology of the Christian Kabalists, “the Son of the Father and Mother,” and agreeably to ours—”the Self manifested in Self—Yih-sin, the “one form of existence,” the child of Dharmakaya (the universally diffused Essence), both male and female. Parabrahm or “Adi-Buddha” while acting through that germ point outwardly as an active force, reacts from the circumference inwardly as the Supreme but latent Potency.” (Mahatma Letter #59, 2nd ed. p. 346, 3rd ed. pp. 340-341, chron. ed. #111, pp. 378-379).

Compare Beal’s Catena, p. 373: “So again, when the idea of a universally diffused essence (dharmakaya) was accepted as a dogmatic necessity, a further question arose as to the relation which this “supreme existence” bore to time, space, and number. And from this consideration appears to have proceeded the further invention of the several names Vairochana (the Omnipresent), Amitâbha (for Amirta [sic for Amrita]) the Eternal, and Adi-Buddha (yih-sin) the “one form of existence.””

Beal’s Catena, p. 11: “The whole of these systems again he includes within one universally diffused essence, which, for want of a better word, is called the “Heart,” but which, in fact, corresponds to the soul of the universe, the all-pervading Self or the “All in all” of pure Pantheism.”

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The Territory of Doubt

By David Reigle on June 8, 2019 at 4:00 pm

            Mahatma letter #16 (chronological #68), the so-called “devachan letter,” refers to the “Territory of Doubt”:

“Thus, for instance, in enumerating the seven lokas of the ‘Kama-Loka’ the Avatamsaka Sutra gives as the seventh, the ‘Territory of Doubt.’ I will ask you to remember the name as we will have to speak of it hereafter.”

In the Mahatma’s answer to the next question, this phrase occurs again:

“From ‘Sukhavati’ down to the ‘Territory of Doubt’ there is a variety of Spiritual States; . . .”

Although the Mahatma asks his correspondent “to remember the name as we will have to speak of it hereafter,” we do not hear of it again in either the rest of the Mahatma letters or in the writings of the Mahatmas’ sometime amanuensis H. P. Blavatsky.

            The phrase “territory of doubt” comes from A Catena of Buddhist Scriptures from the Chinese, translated by Samuel Beal, 1871. It occurs only once there, on page 120, according to a digital search:

“If, however, a man prepares himself to acquire merit, and prays for birth in that land [Sukhāvatī, the Paradise of Amitābha], and yet afterwards goes back and loses his faith, he shall be born, if he again turns to the true belief, in a ‘territory of doubt,’ where he shall for five hundred years neither see Buddha nor hear the Law or the Bôdhisatwas.”

It was referred to earlier in Beal’s Catena, p. 42, footnote, as the “city of doubt”:

“But if a man who reverences Buddha, and has observed the precepts, yet with less thorough purpose, die without any marks either good or bad on his person, but lies as it were in a sleep, and, awaking for a moment, thus departs, this man, not yet wholly freed from the influences of unbelief, shall be born for five hundred years in an external paradise,* and afterwards enter on his perfect reward.”

“*City of doubt, a region bordering on the true Paradise of Amitâbha.”

The idea was referred to one more time, in a passage translated in Beal’s Catena, p, 375:

“And therefore the Amitâbha Sûtra says: ‘Every faithful person ought naturally to pray for birth in that happy country (Paradise).’ . . .

“Again there is a passage which says, ‘If a man is well-rooted, yet if he doubts, the flower will not open; but if he believes, then his heart (inner self) pure and calm, opening out like the flower opens from the bud, he forthwith beholds Buddha, and comprehends (hears) the law.’”

            From these references, we can see that the idea of the territory of doubt comes from the Sukhāvatī-vyūha-sūtra, referred to as the Amitābha Sūtra. The Mahatma’s reference to this as coming from the Avataṃsaka-sūtra is not found in Beal’s book, although Beal often refers to this sūtra, and may be an error (I could not find any such thing in a digital search of this extensive sūtra translated into English by Thomas Cleary as The Flower Ornament Scripture). This idea is explained at length in the larger Sukhāvatī-vyūha-sūtra. It is that if a person has once made the wish to be reborn in sukhāvatī or devachan, but later doubts rebirth in such a place, yet “plants the roots of merit,” that person will be reborn inside a closed lotus in sukhāvatī. Thus the person will be in sukhāvatī, but will not be able to benefit from its wonderful features until, after a long time, the lotus opens. The full passage explaining this is, as translated from Sanskrit by Luis O. Gómez in The Land of Bliss: The Paradise of the Buddha of Measureless Light, Sanskrit and Chinese Versions of the Sukhāvatīvyūha Sutras, 1996, pp. 104-106:

Two Kinds of Rebirth in the Land of Bliss

§133.    The Blessed One said: “Now, Ajita, do you also see the dwelling of those who here in this Land of Bliss dwell inside the closed calyxes of immense lotus flowers?”

            He said: “Blessed One, I see that these human beings whose dwelling is the closed calyxes of noble lotus flowers here in the Land of Bliss enjoy dwellings like those of gods—just as the gods of the Thirty-Three or the gods of the Yama Realm live in palaces fifty leagues or a hundred leagues or five hundred leagues wide, where they play, sport, and enjoy themselves, in exactly the same manner, Blessed One, those in the closed calyxes of noble lotus flowers play, sport, and enjoy themselves in similar palaces.

§134.    “Furthermore, Blessed One, there are beings who, born miraculously, appear sitting cross-legged on the lotus flowers. What are then, Blessed One, the causes, what are the conditions, that determine who will dwell in a closed calyx, and who will be reborn miraculously to appear sitting cross-legged on open lotus flowers?”

§135.    The Blessed One said: “Those bodhisattvas in other buddha-fields, Ajita, who entertain doubts about rebirth in the Land of Bliss, but who in spite of their doubts plant the roots of merit, they will dwell inside the calyx. But those who, on the contrary, are free of doubt, who have cut through uncertainty, and who plant roots of merit in order to be reborn in the Land of Bliss, and trust in the unimpeded knowledge of blessed buddhas, believe in it, and are committed to it, they are reborn miraculously to appear here sitting cross-legged in open lotus flowers.

§136.    “Those bodhisattvas mahasattvas, Ajita, who abide in buddha-fields elsewhere in the universe, if they aspire to see Amitabha, the Tathagata, Arhat, perfect and full Buddha, if they never entertain a doubt, never hesitate regarding the unimpeded knowledge of the buddhas, and believe in their own roots of merit, they too will be reborn miraculously, appearing cross-legged on the lotus flowers, in only an instant, already possessing a body exactly like that of other beings who have been born there long before.

§137.    “Consider, Ajita, the weakness in the discernment of those who do not believe in the Buddha’s knowledge. Consider the limitations of their discernment, the deficit in their discernment, the feebleness of their discernment. For, during five hundred years, they are deprived of seeing the Buddha, of seeing the bodhisattvas, of hearing the Dharma, of speaking about the Dharma. They are deprived of the practice of the roots of merit, of accomplishing the roots of merit. And all of this only because their ideas and conceptualization have fallen prey to doubt.

§138.    “Ajita, it is as if an anointed kshatriya monarch had a prison, inlaid entirely with gold and emerald, with strings of silk cloth, garlands, and tassels hanging from the walls, with open canopies of different colors. Its walls would be covered with cotton and silk, its floors scattered over with open flowers of many kinds. The prison would be scented with excellent scents, embellished with terraced roofs and terraced pavilions, with skylights, railings, and gateways, decorated with jewels of all kinds, covered with nets of bells of gold and gems. It would have four corners, four pillars, four doors, four stairs. And the son of that king would be thrown into that prison for some misdeed. He would be bound with chains made of gold from the Jambu River. And a couch would be prepared for him there, covered with many thick woolen spreads, with cotton and wool coverlets, pleasant to touch like fine Kachilindika cloth, wrapped in covers made of Kalinga cloth, and, on top, a silk spread, with red cushions on both sides, colorful and charming. He would sit or lie on that couch. And much food and drink of various kinds, pure and excellent, would be offered to him there. What do you think, Ajita? Would the prince have there fine objects of enjoyment?”       He said: “They would be great, Blessed One.”

§139.    The Blessed One said: “What do you think, Ajita? Would he relish this food, consume it, or feel any satisfaction from it?”

            He said: “No indeed, Blessed One. On the contrary, led away by the king and thrown in that prison, he would only wish for release from there. He would seek the nobles, princes, ministers, ladies of the court, rich merchants, property owners, and lords of castles, who might release him from that prison. Furthermore, Blessed One, there would be no pleasure for that prince in that prison, nor would he be freed from there until the king would show him favor.”

§140.    The Blessed One said: “In exactly the same way, Ajita, those bodhisattvas who plant roots of merit, but have fallen prey to doubt, hesitate in their belief in the knowledge of a buddha, which is a knowledge equal to the unequalled. They may be reborn in this world called the Land of Bliss, if they have heard the Buddha’s name, and by the sheer power of a serene, trusting, mind generated by that hearing; but are not born miraculously and do not appear in that land sitting cross-legged on the lotus flowers. Rather, they dwell only in the closed calyx of the lotus flowers. Although they reside there, inside the lotus flowers, with a mental image of the palaces and the gardens of the Land of Bliss, and no excrement or urine is discharged from their bodies, no phlegm or mucus, and nothing disagreeable to the mind is found on their bodies or in their dwellings, still, for five hundred years they are deprived of seeing buddhas, hearing the Dharma, seeing bodhisattvas, speaking about and ascertaining the Dharma, and practicing any of the best virtues taught in the Dharma . Although they do not rejoice there or find satisfaction, still, when their previous transgressions have been exhausted, they then, at last, leave that calyx; and, as they leave it, they cannot tell if they are leaving from above, from below, or across.

§141.    “Consider this, Ajita. If one did not dwell inside a calyx for five hundred years, one could wait upon many hundreds of thousands of millions of trillions of buddhas during those five hundred years. One could plant an immense, innumerable, immeasurable number of roots of merit, and one could gain all the qualities of a buddha. Now, inasmuch as these bodhisattvas will miss all this by reason of their doubting, consider, Ajita, how great is the misfortune to which the doubt of a bodhisattva can lead.

§142.    “Therefore, Ajita, bodhisattvas who are free from doubts should generate this aspiration to attain awakening. And, in order to obtain quickly the capacity to confer benefit and happiness on all living beings, they should dedicate their roots of merit to rebirth in the Land of Bliss, where the Blessed One Amitabha, the Tathagata, Arhat, perfect and full Buddha dwells.”

            One must wonder if the Mahatma intended to link this territory of doubt to the gestation state that he describes as taking place after death and before the person is reborn in devachan, i.e., sukhāvatī. Certainly, being in a closed lotus bud can be compared to a gestation state, whether in the womb or between lives. Indeed, the word that Luis Gómez translates as “closed calyx” is garbha, which is also the usual Sanskrit word for “womb.” Moreover, the Mahatma writes in this letter that the gestation state is “very long,” and the Buddhist text’s “five hundred years” would suggest a very long time to its readers. When a person enters the gestation state between lives, we are told, the cast-off fourth and fifth principles consisting of lower thoughts and emotions go on their way to eventual disintegration. Doubts would naturally be part of the discarded lower thoughts that are slowly fading away while the real person, consisting of the higher principles, is in the gestation state. When the gestation state is over, like when a lotus bud opens, the person is in effect reborn in sukhāvatī, i.e., devachan.

Note on References:

The Sanskrit text of the passage quoted above as translated by Luis O. Gómez is found in the edition by F. Max Müller and Bunyiu Nanjio, Sukhāvatī-vyūha, Oxford, 1883, pp. 65-69, and in the edition by Atsuuji Ashikaga, Sukhāvatīvyūha, Kyoto, 1965, pp. 57-60. It was also translated from Sanskrit by F. Max Müller in Buddhist Mahâyâna Texts, Part II (Sacred Books of the East, vol. 49), 1894, pp. 62-65. Luis O. Gómez additionally provided a translation of it from its most widely used Chinese translation in the same book cited above, pp. 217-219.

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The Dwelling of Māra

By David Reigle on May 30, 2019 at 11:54 pm

            Throughout Mahatma letter #16 (#68 in the chronological edition), the so-called “devachan letter,” are found several quotations from Buddhist scriptures. These come from an 1871 book titled, A Catena of Buddhist Scriptures from the Chinese, by Samuel Beal. In this book (pp. 15-125), Beal translated what he called “The Buddhist Kosmos” (Fah-kai-on-lih-to, in his transcription of the Chinese title, p. 12), written by Jin-Ch’au, and published in 1573 C.E. The book by Jin-Ch’au includes many quotations from the Buddhist scriptures. It is usually these quotations that are given in the Mahatma letter. One of these quotations refers to the “dwelling of Māra” (Mahatma Letters, 2nd ed. pp. 106-107; 3rd ed. p. 104, chronological ed. p. 195; from Beal’s Catena, p. 90). This Māra, says the Mahatma letter, is the allegorical image of the mysterious “Planet of Death,” a sphere located “between Kama and Rupa-lokas.”

            The dwelling of Māra was referred to a few pages earlier in Beal’s Catena (p. 84) as the “abode of Māra.” The earlier quotation confirms the later quotation, that this dwelling or abode of Māra is “between the Kama Loka and the Rupa Loka” (p. 90); that is, between the kāma-dhātu or desire realm and the rūpa-dhātu or form realm. However, no such place is known in the Buddhist teachings that have become standard, such as are based on the Sanskrit Abhidharma-kośa or the Pali Abhidhammatha-saṅgaha. In the standard Buddhist teachings, the kāma-dhātu ends with the sixth of six heavens, the para-nirmita-vaśavartin heaven, after which begins the rūpa-dhātu with the first of seventeen or sixteen higher heavens, the brahma-kāyika heaven (these have been translated as “heavens” only because they are abodes of gods located above the human realm; the Sanskrit text merely calls them “places, localities,” sthāna). There is no mention of any dwelling or abode in between. Indeed, in the standard teachings Māra, the god of desire, dwells in the sixth and highest heaven of the kāma-dhātu, the desire realm, not in some sphere between the kāma-dhātu and the rūpa-dhātu. Where, then, does this teaching come from? The text translated by Beal quotes it from what Beal transcribed as the “Lau-Tan Sutra.”

            The first step is to figure out what is the “Lau-Tan Sutra,” as transcribed by Beal. He thought (p. 90) that it might be the “Pinda-dhana Sûtra,” but no such sūtra shows up in our catalogues. Fortunately, Beal himself prepared a catalogue of the Chinese Tripiṭaka, the first ever in English, published in 1876: The Buddhist Tripiṭaka, as It Is Known in China and Japan. A Catalogue and Compendious Report. There, on p. 39, no. 6 is the Fuh-shwo-Lau-tan-king, i.e., the Lau-tan Sūtra. Several years later, in 1883, Beal’s pioneering catalogue was improved upon by Bunyiu Nanjio with his still used Catalogue of the Chinese Translation of the Buddhist Tripitaka. From Beal’s description in his catalogue, giving the translators, etc., we can see that the Lau-tan Sūtra is no. 551, pp. 138-139, in Nanjio’s catalogue: the Fo-shwo-leu-thân-kiṅ. Nanjio there tells us that it is one of three “earlier translations of No. 545 (30), i.e. the Sûtra on the record of the world, in the Dîrghâgama.” From this information, we can trace it to the now standard edition of the Chinese Tripiṭaka, the Taishō edition, which was compiled and published 1922-1934. In the 1931 Taishō catalogue, this sūtra is no. 23, the Ta leou t’an king. In the once commonly used Wade-Giles system this is written Ta lou t’an ching, or in the now more standard pinyin system, Da lou tan jing.

            The Lau-tan Sūtra, as Nanjio informed us, is an earlier translation of the thirtieth sūtra in the Dīrghāgama. The Dīrghāgama collection, originally in Sanskrit, consists of thirty sūtras in the Chinese translation. The Sanskrit Dīrghāgama was long lost, but in recent years an incomplete manuscript of it was discovered. In this manuscript, the Dīrghāgama consists of forty-seven sūtras. Unfortunately, an original Sanskrit text of the Lau-tan Sūtra is not among these (see: Jens-Uwe Hartmann, “Contents and Structure of the Dīrghāgama of the (Mūla-)Sarvāstivādins,” Annual Report of the International Research Institute for Advanced Buddhology at Soka University, vol. 7, 2004, pp. 119-137, especially pp. 125-128). The Dīrghāgama is parallel to the Pali Dīgha-nikāya, which consists of thirty-four suttas or sūtras. None of these, however, provides us with a parallel to the Lau-tan Sūtra. So we still do not know the Sanskrit title of the Lau-tan Sūtra. One surmise was the Loka-dhātu Sūtra; a later surmise was the Loka-prasthāna Sūtra. The most plausible one is Loka-prajñapti Sūtra, found in an article on the related Loka-prajñapti Śāstra (Siglinde Dietz, “A Brief Survey on the Sanskrit Fragments of the Lokaprajñaptiśāstra,” Annual Memoirs of the Otani University Shin Buddhist Comprehensive Research Institute, vol. 7, 1989, p. 80). More importantly, we do not have a Sanskrit or Pali text of it to check for this “dwelling of Māra.”

            The next step, then, is to see if another text can be found that refers to the “dwelling of Māra” located between the kāma-dhātu and the rūpa-dhātu. As already said, the texts that provide the standard Buddhist teachings on cosmography do not refer to any such place, including their commentaries such as the comprehensive Chim commentary on the Abhidharmakośa recently translated from Tibetan (by Ian James Coghlan, Ornament of Abhidharma, 2018). After a fruitless search of possible candidates, such as the Divyāvadāna (five descriptions of the heavens without it), the Mūla-sarvāstivāda-vinaya-vastu (four descriptions without it, all in its Saṅgha-bheda-vastu), the Dharma-skandha (five descriptions without it in the lengthy extant Sanskrit portions), the Loka-prajñapti-śāstra (several descriptions without it, searched via its Tibetan translation, none in the extant Sanskrit fragments), etc., I came to the Mahāvastu, an old vinaya text that never made it into mainstream Buddhism. There we find two references to such a place. The Mahāvastu refers to the dwelling (bhavana) of Māra, the abode (ālaya) of Māra, that is between the kāma-dhātu and the rūpa-dhātu. Before bringing in the Mahāvastu references, it will be useful to review the passage translated by Beal and quoted in the Mahatma letter, and the supporting passage translated by Beal showing that this place is in fact between the kāma-dhātu and the rūpa-dhātu.

            The passage translated by Beal and quoted in the Mahatma letter, from Beal’s Catena, p. 90:

“The Lau-Tan Sutra says:1 ‘Between the Kama Loka and the Rupa Loka, there is a distinct locality, the dwelling of Mâra. This Mâra, filled with passion and lust, destroys all virtuous principles, as a stone grinds corn. His palace is 6,000 yojanas square, and is surrounded by a seven-fold wall.’”

“1 Pinda-dhana Sûtra.”

            The supporting passage that is found a few pages earlier briefly describes the six heavens of the kāma-dhātu, the “World of Desires,” one by one. It is preceded by this note from the Chinese Editor on its sources: “For bodily size we follow the Kosha; for the character of the garments the Dirghâgama Sutra; for the duration of life the Kosha and Abhidharma.” After the six heavens of the kāma-dhātu and before moving on to the rūpa-dhātu, or “Rupa-loka,” it brings in the “Mâra-vasanam-Heavens,” the “abode of Mâra.” It is from Beal’s Catena, pp. 83-84:

           “10. With respect to the six heavens of the World of Desires, the size of the bodies of the ‘Four Kings,’ is half a li, the weight of their garments half a tael (ounce), and fifty years of men equal one of their days and nights; they live 500 years.

            “In the Trayastriñshas Heaven the size of the body is one li, the weight of the garments six chu (one fourth of an ounce), one night and day equal 100 years of men, and they live 1,000 of these years.

            “In the Yama Heaven, the height of the body is one li and a half, their garments three chu (scruples) in weight, one night and day equals 200 years of men, and they live 2,000 of these years.

            “In the Tusita Heaven, height two li, weight two chu, life 4,000 years, each year being 400 years of men.

            “In the Nirmâna rati Heaven, height two and a half li, weight one chu, duration of life 8,000 years, each year being equal to 800 years of men.

            “In the Parinirmita-vasavartin Heaven, the height is three li, weight of garments half a scruple, and they live 16,000 years, each year of which is equal to 1,600 years of men.

            “In the Mâra-vasanam1-Heavens, the weight of garments is 128th of an ounce, and the years of their life 32,000.

            “In the Rupa-Ioka they use kalpas to measure the duration of life, and they wear no garments, there being no distinction of sexes.”

            “1. Mo-Io-po-seun, i.e., Mâra-vasanam, or abode of Mâra; vide Burnouf, Introd., 617.”

            This shows clearly that the dwelling or abode of Māra is a distinct locality, with its own distinct weight of garments and years of lifespan, beyond the para-nirmita-vaśavartin heaven, the highest heaven of the kāma-dhātu, and before the rūpa-dhātu. It confirms the quotation from the Lau-tan Sūtra. The later Chinese translation of the Lau-tan Sūtra as found in the Dīrghāgama has now become available in a complete English translation of the Dīrghāgama. This translation of the same passage quoted by Beal’s author differs in some ways from Beal’s translation of it, but confirms that the dwelling of Māra is a distinct locality between the para-nirmita-vaśavartin heaven and the brahma-kāyika heaven. As translated by Shohei Ichimura in The Canonical Book of the Buddha’s Lengthy Discourses, vol. 3, 2018, p. 155:

“Between Paranirmitavaśavartin Heaven and Brahmakāyika Heaven is the palace of the lord of the evil ones, Māra, an area of sixty thousand yojanas surrounded by sevenfold walls with seven railings, seven ornamental nets, and seven lines of trees, and so on, with innumerable birds singing harmoniously together, just as before.”

            Another English translation of this passage from the later Chinese translation of the Lau-tan Sūtra as found in the Dīrghāgama, made by Angela Falco Howard, is found in her partial translation of this sūtra from her 1986 book, The Imagery of the Cosmological Buddha, p. 117:

“Between the Paranirmita and Brahmā Heavens is the palace of Brahmā deva, which extends for six thousand yojanas in both directions. The palace’s walls are seven-fold with seven balustrades, seven rows of trees with seven precious bells, and countless birds singing harmoniously to each other.”

            This translation differs from the 2018 translation in the number of yojanas in extent, six thousand instead of sixty thousand, and more significantly, the palace of Brahmā rather than the palace of Māra. However, this is almost certainly a slip on the part of Howard. Later in this sūtra as translated by Howard, we see that it is indeed “Māra’s Heaven” that is between the Paranirmitavaśavartin Heaven and the Brahmā Heavens, p. 154:

“There are twelve categories of sentient beings who belong to the Kamadhātu or World of Desire. Which are they? They are [the denizens of] hell, the animals, pretas, men, asuras, the Four Heavenly Kings, [those who live in] the Trāyastriṃśa Heaven, Yama Heaven, Tuṣita Heaven, Nirmāṇarati Heaven, Paranirmitavaśavartin Heaven, Māra’s Heaven. There are twenty-two categories of sentient beings who belong to the Rupadhātu or World of Form. They are [the beings living in] Brahmā’s Heaven, in the Brahmakāyika Heaven, Brahmāpurohita Heaven, . . .”

            This is in turn confirmed in Ichimura’s 2018 translation of this same passage of the Dīrghagama, vol. 3, p. 244:

“There are twelve kinds of sentient beings in the realm of desire. What are the twelve? They are (1) hell beings, (2) animals, (3) hungry ghosts, (4) humans, (5) asuras, (6) the guardian gods, (7) the Trāyastriṃśa gods, (8) the Yama gods, (9) the Tuṣita gods, (10) the Nirmāṇarati gods, (11) the Paranirmitavaśavartin gods, and (12) the evil ones (Pāpīyas). There are twenty-two kinds of sentient beings in the realm of form: (1) the Brahmakāyika gods, (2) the Brahmapurohita gods, . . .”

            Yet with all this, we were still lacking a Sanskrit original to confirm the English translations of the Chinese translations, until found in the Mahāvastu. The Mahāvastu, one of the earliest Buddhist Sanskrit texts we have, is a text from the vinaya of the long-defunct Lokottara-vādin Mahā-sāṃghika Buddhists. Two passages in this text refer to the dwelling (bhavana) of Māra, the abode (ālaya) of Māra, and show clearly that this dwelling or abode of Māra is a distinct locality between the para-nirmita-vaśavartin heaven of the kāma-dhātu and the brahmā heavens of the rūpa-dhātu. Here there can be no question, since we have the original Sanskrit. The two passages from the Mahāvastu are:

śīlena pariśuddhena cyavantaṃ paśyate naraḥ |
vimānaṃ ruciraṃ śreṣṭhaṃ apsaro-gaṇa-sevitaṃ ||
śīlena pariśuddhena cyavantaṃ paśyate naraḥ |
sumeru-mūrdhne rucire trāyastriśānam ālaye ||
śīlena pariśuddhena yāmāṃ paśyati devatāṃ |
taṃ caiva nagaraṃ divyaṃ apsarāhi parisphuṭaṃ ||
śīlena pariśuddhena tuṣitāṃ paśyati devatāṃ |
vimānāṃ paśyati teṣāṃ vicitrāṃ ratanāmayāṃ ||
śīlena pariśuddhena nirmāṇa-ratīṃ paśyati |
sunirmitāṃ deva-putrāṃ paśyati ca svalaṃkṛtāṃ ||
śīlena pariśuddhena devāṃ paśyati śobhanāṃ |
para-nirmita-vaśavartī vimāneṣu pratiṣṭhitā ||
śīlena pariśuddhena paśyate māram ālayaṃ |
maṇi-vitāna-saṃchannaṃ apsaro-gaṇa-sevitaṃ ||
śīle ābhogaṃ kṛtvāna brahmāṃ paśyati devatāṃ |
jāṃbū-nada-vimānaṃ ca maṇīhi pratimaṇḍitaṃ ||
śīlavāṃ paśyate bhikṣu devāṃ ca brahma-kāyikāṃ |
brahma-purohitāṃ devāṃ vimānehi pratiṣṭhitāṃ ||

(Le Mahâvastu, edited by É. Senart, vol. 2, 1890, pp. 359-360)

            “Through his pure morality a man can see one passing away to the highest brilliant mansion, the resort of throngs of Apsarases.

            “Through his pure morality a man can see one passing away to the bright peak of Sumeru, the abode of the Trāyastriṃśa devas.

            “Through his pure morality he can see the Yāma devas, and that celestial city which is crowded by Apsarases.

            “Because of his perfectly pure morality he sees the Tuṣita devas; he sees their bright bejewelled mansions.

            “Because of his perfectly pure morality he sees the Nirmāṇarati devas, the devas (named) Sunirmita, makers of their own adornments.

            “Because of his perfectly pure morality he sees the shining Paranirmitavaśavartin devas standing in their own mansions.

            “Because of his perfectly pure morality he sees the abode of Māra, covered with a canopy of jewels and crowded by throngs of Apsarases.

            “Through fixing his mind on morality he sees the Brahmā devas and their mansion of Jāmbūnada gold begirt with jewels.

            “The moral monk sees the devas in Brahmā’s train, and the devas who are his priests, standing in their mansions.”

(The Mahāvastu, translated by J. J. Jones, vol. 2, 1952, p. 327)

atīva cāturmahārājikānāṃ devānāṃ bhavanāni pariśuddhāni paryavadātāni abhūṣi | atīva trāyastriṃśānāṃ yāmānāṃ tuṣitānāṃ nirmāṇa-ratīṇāṃ para-nirmita-vasavartināṃ devānāṃ bhavanāni pariśuddhāni paryavadātāni abhūṣi || atīva māra-bhavanāni dhyāmāni abhūnsuḥ | durvarṇā niṣprabhāṇi dhvajāgrāṇi māra-kāyikānāṃ devānāṃ māro ca pāpīmāṃ duḥkhī durmano vipratisārī dhyāmanta-varṇo anto-śalya-paridāgha-jāto || brahma-kāyikānāṃ devānāṃ bhavanāni pariśuddhāni paryavadātāni abhūnsuḥ | śuddhāvāsānāṃ devānāṃ bhavanāni pariśuddhāni paryavadātāni abhūnsuḥ |

(Le Mahâvastu, edited by É. Senart, vol. 2, 1890, p. 163)

“The abodes of the Cāturmahārājika devas became exceeding bright and pure, and so did the abodes of the Trāyastriṃśa devas, of the Yāma devas, of the Tuṣita devas, of the Nirmāṇarati devas, and of the Paranirmitavaśavartin devas. The abodes of Māra became exceeding gloomy. The standards of Māra’s companies became dulled and without lustre. And wicked Māra became unhappy, discomfited, remorseful, dark-visaged and tortured by the sting within him. The abodes of the Brahmā devas and of the Śuddhāvāsa devas became exceeding bright and pure.”

(The Mahāvastu, translated by J. J. Jones, vol. 2, 1952, p. 158)

            The probable reason why the teaching of the dwelling of Māra between the kāma-dhātu and the rūpa-dhātu did not become standard Buddhist doctrine is that it refers to an exceptional realm of existence, not a normal realm of existence. The Mahatma letter has been describing the states after death. It explains that the dwelling of this Māra is the allegorical image of the sphere called the “Planet of Death,” where the lives doomed to destruction disappear.

“Nor must you laugh, if ever you come across Pindha-Dhana or any other Buddhist Sutra and read: ‘Between the Kama-Loka and the Rupa-Loka there is a locality, the dwelling of “Mara” (Death). This Mara filled with passion and lust, destroys all virtuous principles, as a stone grinds corn.* His palace is 7000 yojanas square, and is surrounded by a seven-fold wall,’ for you will feel now more prepared to understand the allegory.”

“* This Mara, as you may well think, is the allegorical image of the sphere called the ‘Planet of Death’ — the whirlpool whither disappear the lives doomed to destruction. It is between Kama and RupaLokas that the struggle takes place.”

            Earlier in the letter the “planet of Death” is referred to for the first time. Besides the two references to it in this letter, this mysterious place is referred to only one more time in the whole of the primary Theosophical writings, only to say in reply to Sinnett’s query about it, “A question I have no right to answer.” (Mahatma letter #23, chronological #93). Then follows in this letter a lengthy description of how a person may end up there. The letter concludes with the statement that this is very rare, an exception rather than the rule.

            “Every one but that ego which, attracted by its gross magnetism, falls into the current that will draw it into the ‘planet of Death’ — the mental as well as physical satellite of our earth — is fitted to pass into a relative ‘spiritual’ condition adjusted to his previous condition in life and mode of thought. To my knowledge and recollection H.P.B. explained to Mr. Hume that man’s sixth principle, as something purely spiritual could not exist, or have conscious being in the Deva-Chan, unless it assimilated some of the more abstract and pure of the mental attributes of the fifth principle or animal Soul: its manas (mind) and memory. When man dies his second and third principles die with him; the lower triad disappears, and the fourth, fifth, sixth and seventh principles form the surviving Quaternary. (Read again page 6 in Fragments of O.T.)  Thenceforth it is a ‘death’ struggle between the Upper and Lower dualities. If the upper wins, the sixth, having attracted to itself the quintessence of Good from the fifth — its nobler affections, its saintly (though they be earthly) aspirations, and the most Spiritualised portions of its mind — follows its divine elder (the 7th) into the ‘Gestation’ State; and the fifth and fourth remain in association as an empty shell — (the expression is quite correct) — to roam in the earth’s atmosphere, with half the personal memory gone, and the more brutal instincts fully alive for a certain period — an ‘Elementary’ in short. This is the ‘angel guide’ of the average medium. If, on the other hand, it is the Upper Duality which is defeated, then, it is the fifth principle that assimilates all that there may be left of personal recollection and perceptions of its personal individuality in the sixth. But, with all this additional stock, it will not remain in Kama-Loka — ‘the world of Desire’ or our Earth’s atmosphere. In a very short time like a straw floating within the attraction of the vortices and pits of the Maelstrom, it is caught up and drawn into the great whirlpool of human Egos; while the sixth and seventh — now a purely Spiritual, individual MONAD, with nothing left in it of the late personality, having no regular ‘gestation’ period to pass through (since there is no purified personal Ego to be reborn), after a more or less prolonged period of unconscious Rest in the boundless Space — will find itself reborn in another personality on the next planet. When arrives the period of ‘Full Individual Consciousness’ — which precedes that of Absolute Consciousness in the Pari-Nirvana — this lost personal life becomes as a torn out page in the great Book of Lives, without even a disconnected word left to mark its absence. The purified monad will neither perceive nor remember it in the series of its past rebirths — which it would had it gone to the ‘World of Forms’ (rupa-loka) — and its retrospective glance will not perceive even the slightest sign to indicate that it had been. The light of Samma-Sambuddh

                        ‘. . . that light which shines beyond our mortal ken

                        The line of all the lives in all the worlds’ —

throws no ray upon that personal life in the series of lives foregone.

            “To the credit of mankind, I must say, that such an utter obliteration of an existence from the tablets of Universal Being does not occur often enough to make a great percentage. In fact, like the much mentioned ‘congenital idiot’ such a thing is a lusus naturae — an exception, not the rule.”

            It may be that this teaching of a realm between the kāma-dhātu and the rūpa-dhātu, explained here as where the lives doomed to destruction disappear, dropped away from the Buddhist teachings for the same reason that it dropped away from the Theosophical teachings: as the Mahatma said, “I have no right to answer” Sinnett’s question about this mysterious “planet of death.” In the Theosophical teachings it pertains only to exceptions, where the life was so devoid of any redeeming qualities that the principles which make up the person go to annihilation without anything left to continue on to rebirth, thus breaking the connection with the spiritual individual monad that once animated that personality. In Buddhist terms, the series of sets of skandhas that make up a person and form an unbroken causal continuum of rebirth from life to life to life is broken. This is not something that the standard Buddhist teachings speak of.

            The dwelling of Māra referred to in these early Buddhist texts, the Dīrghāgama and the Mahāvastu, would in accordance with the Theosophical explanation refer to Māra as death, mṛtyu-māra; thus the dwelling of Māra is the planet of death. This Māra is not the more usual Māra of desire whose dwelling is the para-nirmita-vaśavartin heaven at the top of the kāma-dhātu: Māra the god, deva-putra-māra, who as personified desire has sway over the whole desire realm or kāma-dhātu. The Theosophical teachings attempted to explain the allegorical Buddhist teachings in straightforward language, thus giving out for the first time what was hitherto esoteric information. The Buddhist teaching of sukhāvatī or devachan (Tibetan, bde ba can), a pure buddha-field or pure land that Buddhists could aspire to go to after death, was explained as the after-death state that most people go to. Those who do not go to that state, the exceptions, had also to be accounted for. As exceptions, it was not necessary, and apparently was not permissible, to say much about them. Nonetheless, for the explanation of the after-death states to be complete, the dwelling of Māra or the planet of death had to at least be mentioned.

Category: Uncategorized | 2 comments


Kalahaṃsa: the Soft-spoken Goose

By David Reigle on April 30, 2019 at 10:58 pm

            The kalahaṃsa, written more phonetically as kalahansa, is a particular kind of haṃsa (or hansa). A haṃsa is a goose, although it has often been translated as a swan, because this is more poetic for Western readers.1 The term is not kālahaṃsa, where the first word would be kāla, meaning both “time” and “black.” Thus, the term does not mean the goose/swan of time, or the black goose/swan. The term is kalahaṃsa, where the first word is kala, meaning soft or low (as a tone). Thus, the term means the goose whose call is soft or low in relation to the sound made by other geese. Specifically, it is the name of the gray lag goose, a more soft-spoken goose, in contradistinction to the louder bar-headed goose.


This was shown in a 1962 monograph by Jean Philippe Vogel that has become the standard work on the subject, The Goose in Indian Literature and Art. He writes in his Introduction, pp. 1-2:

            “In Sanskrit and Pali literature we frequently meet an aquatic bird called haṃsa and this word according to European dictionaries of those languages means not only a goose but also a swan and flamingo. In translations by western scholars haṃsa is usually not rendered by ‘goose’, but either by ‘swan’ or ‘flamingo’. This preference we can well understand. In this part of the world the goose, known chiefly in its degrading domesticated state, is looked upon as a homely animal unfit to enter the exalted realm of poetry. . . .

            “If we turn to ancient India we find the goose associated with conceptions and sentiments entirely different from those of the West. For the Indians the haṃsa is the noble bird par excellence worthy of being sung by poets like Kālidāsa and figured on religious monuments. The goose is the vehicle of Brahmā the Creator. In ancient fables he is the embodiment of the highest virtues and in Buddhist jātakas we meet him reborn as the Bodhisattva, the exalted being predestined to become the Buddha Śākyamuni.

            “But are we justified in identifying the haṃsa of Indian literature with the goose? Should we not follow our predecessors, including great scholars like Böhtlingk and Kern, and rather choose the swan or the flamingo, more graceful to the western eye than a plump goose? The question is: are we really allowed to make a choice? Or does Sanskrit haṃsa mean a goose and nothing else?”

Vogel concludes his book, p. 74:

            “The conclusion of our enquiry is perfectly clear. The goose is a favourite decorative device in Indian art from the time of Aśoka to the Mogul period. From Kashmir to Ceylon it is employed to adorn religious buildings both Buddhist and Brahmanical. The swan and the flamingo, on the contrary, do not occur. The evidence of Indian art is in perfect agreement with the observations of naturalists. We may therefore be certain that the Sanskrit word haṃsa always designates the goose and nothing else.”


            According to naturalists, swans are not now found in India, except occasionally as visitors at the northern fringes of the country. The two common species of geese found in India, the very numerous bar-headed goose and the much less numerous gray lag goose, are both largely gray in color. But based on a number of references in classical Sanskrit texts to the haṃsa as being white (śveta) in color, K. N. Dave in his detailed 1985 study, Birds in Sanskrit Literature (pp. 422-447), concluded that the haṃsa was originally a swan, which must have once been found in India. This is of course plausible, going back in time farther than all the sculptures surveyed by Vogel. This would take us close to Vedic times.

            The word haṃsa is found in the most ancient Vedic text, the Ṛg-veda, several times. None of these references describe it as being white in color. On the contrary, it is described there as “dark in colour on the back (nīla-pṛṣṭha)” (Vedic Index of Names and Subjects, vol. 2, p. 497). The verse is So this would not be a swan, which is all white. In fact, this would well describe the gray lag goose, which is darker gray in color on the back than is the bar-headed goose. The gray lag goose, we recall, is the kalahaṃsa, whose call is more mellow than that of the bar-headed goose.


1. The practice of translating hasa as “swan” rather than “goose” started as early as 1813, and has been widely followed ever since. See, for example:

The Megha Duta; or, Cloud Messenger: A Poem, in the Sanscrit Language, translated by Horace Hayman Wilson, 1813, annotation on verse 71: “The Rájahansa, is described as a white Gander with red legs and bill, and together with the common Goose is a favorite bird in Hindu poetry: not to shock European prejudice, I have in all cases substituted for these birds, one to which we are rather more accustomed in verse, the Swan; . . .”

Nala and Damayanti, and Other Poems, translated by Henry Hart Milman 1835, p. 121: “There the swans he saw disporting.] In the original this is a far less poetic bird, and the author must crave forgiveness for having turned his geese into swans.”

2. Ṛg-veda 7.59.7, in various translations:

May the Maruts yet unrevealed, decorating their persons, descend like black-backed swans: . . . (H. H. Wilson, 1866)

Decking the beauty of their forms in secret the swans with purple backs have flown down hither. (Ralph T. H. Griffith, 1891)

Secretly adorning their bodies, the blue-backed swans have flown hereward. (H. D. Velankar, 1963)

Surely even in secret they [the Maruts] keep preening their bodies. The dark-backed geese have flown here. (Stephanie Jamison and Joel Brereton, 2014)

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By Jacques Mahnich on December 28, 2018 at 1:39 pm

A quest was launched during 2012 to identify a correlation between the affirmation of H.P.B. in her S.D. 2.69 that the age of humanity has more than eighteen million years (18,618,725 years up to Kali-Yuga 4986, or 1884-1885 C.E.). Many articles were published on this blog, with all details of calculations according to the old Indian Tradition, more specifically from the Tirukkanda Panchanga which can be can clearly be traced to the Sūrya-siddhānta.

A copy of the Sūrya-siddhānta was uploaded on this site. Chapter one is giving the basic calculations for the cycles (yugas) :

We start with the classical Maha-Yuga, made of the four yugas plus the sandhyas and sandhyansas, with a duration of 4,320,000 human years.

Then, we have the duration of a Manvantara, with 71 Maha-Yugas, plus one Krita-Yuga :

Then, we have the definition of the Kalpa, made of fourteen manvantaras, plus the fifteenth sandhi (Krita-Yuga)

Then, the definition of the Day of Brahma, made of one hundred Kalpas.

We learn here that the present Kalpa is the first in the remaining half of this Brahma age.

Then we have the calculation to reach our current date :

The two next verses are the ones of interest for the search for the 18 million years :

Since the end of the Krita Yuga, 47,400 years of the Gods = 47,400 x 360 = 17,064,000 human years have elapsed, to which we add the Krita Yuga :

17,064,000 + 1,728,000 = 18,792,000 human years

We still have a discrepancy of 18,792,000 – 18,618,725 = 173,275 years, but the order of magnitude is very close by.

Category: Anthropogenesis, Occult Chronology, Uncategorized | 2 comments


Dolpopa on svabhāva

By David Reigle on November 29, 2018 at 10:03 pm

Dolpopa, the major writer of the Jonang order of Tibetan Buddhism, taught that ultimate reality, referred to by him under various names, is “empty of other” (gzhan stong), meaning empty of everything other than itself. This is in contrast to the widely held view in Tibetan Buddhism that everything, including ultimate reality, is “empty of itself” (rang stong), meaning empty of svabhāva. The svabhāva of anything is its “self-nature” or “inherent nature,” which in Tibetan Buddhism is used to mean its inherent existence. Tibetan Buddhists agree that what makes up conventional reality is empty of svabhāva, meaning that it does not inherently exist. The majority view is that what makes up ultimate reality is also empty of svabhāva, meaning that it does not inherently exist any more than what makes up conventional reality. Dolpopa disagreed, saying that there can be no conventional reality without an ultimate reality behind it. Thus, what makes up ultimate reality must have a svabhāva, which ultimate reality is not empty of.

Dolpopa seems to have been the first Tibetan writer to say that ultimate reality has a svabhāva. He presented the “empty of other” (gzhan stong) teachings in his magnum opus, The Mountain Doctrine, a large book filled with quotations from the Buddhist scriptures. In this book he wrote, for example, that “an ultimate other-empty mind endowed with inherent nature (rang bzhin pa) [= svabhāva] always abides as the basis of the emptiness of a conventional self-empty mind” (translation by Jeffrey Hopkins, p. 389). Decades later, toward the end of his life, Dolpopa was asked by the great Sakya teacher, Lama Dampa Sonam Gyaltsen, to write a book that concisely states his views and the reasons for them. This book is The Fourth Council. He opens this book by saying that the original Buddhist teachings of the “Age of Perfection” (rdzogs ldan = Kṛta-yuga) had come to be misunderstood over time, and that his purpose was to restore their original meanings. After saying this, the first teaching that he deals with is the widely prevalent view that all is empty of self-nature, svabhāva. He writes, as translated by Cyrus Stearns in The Buddha from Dölpo, 2010 revised edition, p.137:


“The Kṛtayuga Dharma is the stainless words of the Conqueror, and what is carefully taught by the lords of the tenth level and by the great system founders, flawless and endowed with sublime qualities.

“In that tradition all is not empty of self-nature.

“Carefully distinguishing empty of self-nature and empty of other, what is relative is all taught to be empty of self-nature, and what is absolute is taught to be precisely empty of other.”


He then explains this in detail in the following few pages. Toward the end of The Fourth Council, Dolpopa puts this in terms of the widely prevalent view, which he cannot accept, p. 187:


“I cannot yield to those who, relying on the flawed [treatises of the] Tretāyuga and later eons, accept that all is precisely empty of self-nature, accept that emptiness of self-nature is the absolute, accept that the absolute is empty of self-nature, . . .”


Dolpopa called the teachings that he believed he restored, “Great Madhyamaka,” to distinguish them from the prevailing Madhyamaka or Middle Way teachings. The Great Madhyamaka teachings are also known as the “shentong” (gzhan stong) or “empty of other” teachings. As just seen, the Great Madhyamaka teaching that the absolute or ultimate reality is empty of everything other than itself, but is not empty of itself, means that it has a svabhāva.


Category: Jonangpa, Svabhavat | No comments yet


KH’s Quotation from the Ratnagotravibhāga

By Ingmar de Boer on August 30, 2018 at 10:50 pm

1. What is so interesting about the Ratnagotravibhāga?

In the process of writing The Secret Doctrine, HPB started out writing a short history of occultism to show that that in different times a “universal secret doctrine” was known to many “philosophers and initiates”, and to describe the mysteries and some rites. This became a “large introductory volume”, and in a second and third volume, she described the evolution of cosmos and man respectively. In a letter to A.P. Sinnett (BL p. 195, letter LXXX dated March 3, 1886) she wrote that every section of the book started with a page of translation from the Book of Dzyan and the Secret Book of “Maytreya Buddha”. The initial “first” volume was not published until 1893, after HPB’s death, as a third volume to The Secret Doctrine, but in that volume there are also no translations to be found from this Secret Book of “Maytreya Buddha”. In the final 1888 version of The Secret Doctrine, we find indeed fragments from the Book of Dzyan, but not from the Secret Book of “Maytreya Buddha”.

From the letter to Sinnett we can derive that the Secret Book of “Maytreya Buddha” is an unknown version of the so-called “five books of Maitreya”. One of the known “five books” of Maitreya is the Ratnagotravibhāga (RGV), otherwise known as the Uttaratantra. Finding a reference to any of these five books would be interesting since at some point during the conception of The Secret Doctrine apparently the Mahātmas found the secret versions of these books of similar importance as a source for The Secret Doctrine (SD) as the Book of Dzyan itself.

2. A description of KH’s note

In the collection of Western Manuscripts in the British Library, in the seventh and last volume of the “Mahatma Papers” (Add MS 45289 B) we find a small note, folio number 268b, which was, according to A. Trevor Barker (ML p. xlvii), enclosed together with Mahātma Letter number XCII (96). (The Barker number is set in Roman style, followed by the chronological number of Vic Hao Chin Jr. in Arabic style between parentheses.) In their work Blavatsky’s Secret Books (p. 106), David and Nancy Reigle describe the text as a quotation from the Ratnagotravibhāga (RGV chapter I verse 21), identified as such by the Venerable Professor Samdhong Rinpoche. This is an colour impression of the note on the basis of ML p. xlvii:

The size is about 3-3.5 cm (1.25″) high, and 11.5 cm (4.5″) wide. At the bottom it is cut off with scissors or a sharp knife. The paper looks like part of an envelope. The verso side shows a monogram BLR or BRL on top of a ribbon bearing the appropriate text “Knowledge is power”, perhaps the logo of the paper or envelope manufacturer. Thin rice paper or librarian’s tape is attached to it. The paper was folded in three after it was cut off. It was written on after it was cut off.

The first line is unmistakably in KH’s “large script” handwriting. There is a horizontal line in the middle from left to right, which is part of the note, in blue pencil. Note that this line is not reproduced in the image, above.

Moreover, in ML (p. xlvii), Barker mentions that the note was enclosed with letter XCII (96), but in the manuscript book in the British Library there is an envelope with the note having folio numbers 268a and 268b, suggesting that the note was in a separate envelope. These folio numbers were assigned by a library employee at a later date. It is therefore unclear what was in envelope 268a.

The note shows three different scripts:

  1. The first script is in KH’s handwriting, in blue pencil. The two lines are a phonetic rendering of the second line, which is in Tibetan.
  2. The second script is Tibetan dbu can script. dBu can is not so much used for handwriting, as it is for printing or artwork. It is written in an uncoordinated manner, as if by someone who did not use this script on a daily basis. Perhaps the line was copied from a dpe cha leaf.
  3. The third is a small roman script handwriting, representing an English translation of the second line. Although the last line is written in the same pencil colour as the other lines, comparison shows that the third line is not the same handwriting. It could perhaps be KH’s, but it is very different from the script used in the top line. It is definitely not HPB’s or Sinnett’s.

Transcribing the three lines, we have:

1. Tampö tön-tu dau = wa yin Kyab ni Sang-gye nyag chik yin

2. Tibetan text

3. The only refuge for him who aspires to true perfection is Buddha alone

3. Analysis of the Tibetan text

Comparing the Tibetan line with the Tibetan version of the RGV, we can see one difference: the first “yin” is rendered “yi” in the RGV. A Wylie transliteration from the RGV in I.21 would be:

dam pa’i don du ‘gro ba yi, , skyabs ni sangs rgyas nyag gcig yin, ,

An English translation of the RGV from Tibetan by Eugene Obermiller has been published in 1931 (The Sublime Science […], Acta Orientalia IX, pp. 81-306):

In the absolute sense, the refuge
Of all living beings is only the Buddha.

This translation is not exactly the same as the one in KH’s note. Interestingly the main difference is in the phrase ‘gro ba yin, translated as “for him who aspires”. On the basis of ‘gro ba yi, instead of ‘gro ba yin, the most obvious translation would be “of living beings”. The primary meaning of ‘gro ba is “going” or “moving”, and from there the meaning of living or transmigrating beings is derived.

In 1935 and 1937, the discovery by the famous Rahul Sāṃkṛtyāyan of two partial Sanskrit manuscripts of the RGV was made public.

Journal of Bihar and Orissa Research Society, vols. XXI, p. 31 (III. Ṣalu monastery, vol. XI-5, No. 43) and XXIII, p. 34 (VII. Ṣalu monastery, vol. XIII-5, No. 242):

No. 43 Mahāyānottaratantra (author “Maitreyanātha”) in Śāradā script, 202/3×21/3 ‘, Incomplete

No. 242 Mahāyānottaratantra-ṭīkā (author “Asaṅga”?) in Māgadhī script 121/2×17/8 ‘, 54 leaves, Incomplete

In Sanskrit, the first half of verse I.21 is:

jagaccharaṇamekatra buddhatvaṃ pāramārthikam /

We might translate this as:

Ultimately, Buddhahood is the only refuge of living (transmigrating) beings,

where the Sanskrit equivalent of ‘gro ba is jagat, derived from the root gam, “to go”, and also meaning “that which is alive”, “living beings”, “the world”.

Perhaps there is a Tibetan manuscript of the RGV to be found, or a Tanjur edition, where the phrase ‘gro ba yin is erroneously used instead of ‘gro ba yi.

The transcription at the beginning of the note may be used to find an indication for the Tibetan dialect used. At first sight it looks like Central Tibetan, the dialect of the province of dbus gcang, which in the present time could be considered “standard Tibetan”.

4. The circumstances of letter XCII (96)

The text “KH’s three words” on the envelope of letter XCII (96) is not in KH’s typical handwriting. If KH would have written this, it would have been strange that he addresses himself in the third person. It is similar to Sinnett’s handwriting, therefore the date on the envelope, November 23, 1882, may represent the date of reception.

In the chronological edition on p. 335, Vicente Hao Chin Jr. tells us that in November 1882, Sinnett was given notice of termination of his services as editor of The Pioneer. This corresponds to p. 34 of Sinnett’s autobiography, published in 1986. In the chronology in the Readers’ Guide to the Mahatma Letters to A.P. Sinnett (Linton and Hanson, 2nd ed. 1988, note: this chronology is different from the 1st ed. 1972), we can see that on March 30, 1883, the Sinnetts set sail for England.

In the letter XCII (96) itself, three passwords are given for the purpose of being able to authenticate future communication with the Mahātmas, and it is mentioned that Sinnett would need the passwords in London. This means that on November 23, 1882, it was known to KH that Sinnett would go to London.

Letter XCII (96) is actually only a postscript to letter LXXII (95). Of this letter it is also unclear when exactly it was received, but it is plausible that it was received in November 1882.

According to the “Reader’s Guide” it was received in (early) November 1882. According to Margaret Conger in the “Combined Chronology”, it was received in Allahabad in March 1882. However in the letter is spoken of a meeting which was held in December 1882, which makes it more likely that it was sent in November. Further, the envelope of the postscript is dated November 23, and there many other letters sent from KH to Sinnett from March to November. In this case it would have been a postscript to letter XCI. The KH-letters received by Sinnett in November were according to Conger: CXIX (ML p. 451), LXXIX (ML p. 382) (>= Nov. 17th), LXXX (ML p. 383) (>= Nov. 17th), XCIa (ML p. 415), XCIb (ML p. 416), and XCII (ML p. 419). In the chronological numbering only letters 95 (Barker LXXII) and 96 (Barker XCII) were received in November. This seems quite a difference! I have not taken the time to investigate this further.

Why was letter XCII (96) sent as a postscript and not as a separate letter? Letter LXXII (95) does not reflect the knowledge of Sinnett’s imminent leaving for England. The postscript mentions: “be prepared for it [that is forging of the handwritings of the Mahātmas] in London”. The topic of the letter, what went on in the lodge in Allahabad, has now become less relevant for Sinnett, because he has decided to leave India. We can imagine therefore, that the information of Sinnett’s leaving has reached KH just after he wrote the letter, prompting the need for a postscript.

Why was the note written, and why was it sent to Sinnett in the envelope of letter XCII? It was written because the author, KH, had this text in written Tibetan and wished to know for himself or someone else how it was pronounced, perhaps to memorise it or use as a mantra. The note was sent, most probably by KH, to be of use to Sinnett. It was already clear to KH that their relationship would change drastically when Sinnett would move to London. It seems that sending this line from the RGV is a gesture, a token of sympathy and brotherly support. We can use this text ourselves as a mantra for the purpose of realising the quality of taking refuge in only in the ultimate truth.

Epilogue: more on KH’s note

Antonios Goyios has discovered that the Tibetan phrase is taken not from the Tanjur, but from a Western book, A Manual of Tibetan, written by T.H. Lewin, published in 1879 in Calcutta. Goyios published his discovery already in his 2009 article entitled Tracing the Source of Tibetan Phrases Found in Mahatma Letters #54 and #92 to be found on Daniel Caldwell’s web site “Blavatsky Archives”:


On p. 134 of A Manual of Tibetan (exercise 97, example 11) we find the following:


For our “Tampö tön-tu dau = wa yin Kyab ni Sang-gye nyag chik yin” we find “Tàm-pö tön-tu dau-wa yin kyab ni sang-gye nya chi yin”, which is close. In the margin, the words newly introduced are listed, and dau-wa (‘gro ba) is listed as “animal”, which is not found in the translation. The Tibetan text as well as the transcription have yin instead of yi.

In a footnote Goyios remarks: “It should perhaps be noted at this point that the part of example 11 preceding the quotation found on Mahatma letter #92, although apparently in mutual context with it’s latter part (which seems like a natural continuation), is not to be found in the vicinity of Ratna-gotra-vibhaga, chapter 1, verse 21 (or 20). Whether it is to be found in another part of the same work remains to be known, although it appears that example 11 as found in “Manual of Tibetan” is a compilation from more than one particular source.”

It may also be interesting to know that the lama who cooperated in making the Manual, came from the monastery of “Pemiongchi”, or Pema Yangtse (pa dma yang rtse), which is located in Sikkim, not too far North of Darjeeling. (at 27°18’19”.00 N 88°15’6″.87 E) HPB had met KH in Sikkim early November. She was staying in Darjeeling, and they had met in Phari Dzong (phag ri, around 29°45′ N 89° 10’ E), again, not too far from Darjeeling and Pema Yangtse, across the border in Tibet. (103 km/64 miles as the crow flies) Still the line is very beautiful and can be used as a mantra, albeit not one directly from the Ratnagotravibhāga, but from A Manual of Tibetan… •




Category: Five Books of Maitreya, Mahatma Letters, Ratnagotravibhaga | 3 comments


Studies in the Jonang Revised Translation of the Kālacakra-tantra: 1.1-1.3

By David Reigle on August 19, 2018 at 4:33 pm

There was much interest in the Kālacakra-tantra when it appeared in India about a thousand years ago. So when it was brought to Tibet a short time later, it was translated from Sanskrit into Tibetan several times. The translation that would become standard was the one by the Sanskrit paṇḍita Somanātha and the Tibetan translator ‘Bro Shes rab grags. This translation was at some point revised by Shong ston Rdo rje rgyal mtshan, and it is only this revised version that we have. This revised Shong version was again revised when the Jonang teacher Dolpopa asked Blo gros rgyal mtshan and Blo gros dpal bzang po to do so. Shong ston says in his colophon that he used two Sanskrit manuscripts when making his revision, and the two Jonang translators say in their colophon that they used many (mang po) Sanskrit manuscripts when making their revison. So the Jonang revised translation of the Kālacakra-tantra is a revision of the Shong ston revision of the translation by Somanātha and ‘Bro lo tsā ba (Dro lotsawa).

The Kālacakra-tantra is a text of unusual difficulty, not only because of its arcane subject matter, but especially because it is written entirely in the sragdharā meter. In this long meter every syllable is regulated as to its length, long or short. So the writer cannot just say things as he would in prose, but must make every syllable fit the meter. The Tibetan translation, too, is regulated by meter, in this case by the total number of syllables allowed per line. This means that syllables giving important grammatical information often had to be omitted to fit the meter. Somanātha and ‘Bro lo tsā ba when making their translation had to fit the meaning into the required number of Tibetan syllables. Likewise, when Shong ston and the two Jonang translators were making their revisions, they could not just say what they thought was meant, but rather had to somehow fit this into the meter.

As already said, the unrevised translation of the Kālacakra-tantra by Somanātha and ‘Bro lo tsā ba is no longer available. The revision of it by Shong ston is found in several editions or recensions of the Kangyur, including the Lithang, Narthang, Der-ge, Co-ne, Urga, and Lhasa blockprint recensions, and also in a blockprint with annotations by Bu ston. The Jonang revision of the Shong revision is found in the Yunglo and Peking blockprint recensions of the Kangyur, and also in a modern typeset edition with annotations by Phyogs las rnam rgyal. All of the editions or recensions have a number of typographical errors. This must be carefully taken into account when trying to ascertain the differences between the Shong version and the Jonang version. Sometimes even the differences between two or more recensions of the same version, such as the Narthang and Der-ge recensions of the Shong version, are such that the correct reading can only be ascertained by comparision with the original Sanskrit. Once the texts are established, it is only by comparison with the original Sanskrit that we can try to determine what the Jonang revisers were attempting to clarify or correct.

Here follows the edited and corrected Sanskrit text, an English translation (by myself), the edited and corrected Tibetan text as revised by Shong ston, and the edited and corrected Tibetan text as revised by the two Jonang translators. The differences between the Shong and Jonang versions are underlined. Some comments on these are then given. For access to the eight blockprint recensions mentioned above, I have used the comparative Bka’ ‘gyur published in China, vol. 77 (2008). Six of these give the Shong version and two of these give the Jonang version. Since two textual witnesses for the Jonang version are not sufficient, I have used the edition with annotations by Phyogs las rnam rgyal published in the Jonang Publication Series, vol. 17 (2008), and the manuscript with annotations by Phyogs las rnam rgyal reproduced in Dus ‘khor ‘grel mchan phyogs bsgrigs, vol. 4 (2007). This same manuscript was also reproduced in Dus ‘khor phyogs bsgrigs chen mo, vol. 25 (2014).

sarva-jñaṃ jñāna-kāyaṃ dina-kara-vapuṣaṃ padma-patrâyatâkṣaṃ

buddhaṃ siṃhâsana-sthaṃ sura-vara-namitaṃ mastakena praṇamya |

pṛcched rājā sucandraḥ kara-kamala-puṭaṃ sthāpayitvôttamâṅge

yogaṃ śrī-kālacakre kali-yug-a-samaye mukti-hetor narāṇām || 1 ||

Having bowed with his head to the omniscient Buddha, who is the primordial wisdom body, which is the body of the sun, whose eyes are long like lotus petals, who is seated on a lion throne, who is bowed to by the best of gods, King Suchandra, having placed his joined lotus-hands on his head, asked for the yoga in the glorious Kālachakra, which latter is the group of vowels together with the consonants, for the sake of the liberation of human beings.

thams cad mkhyen pa ye shes sku dang nyin mor byed pa’i sku ste padma’i ‘dab ma rgyas pa’i spyan | |

sangs rgyas seng ge’i khri la bzhugs pa lha mchog rnams kyis btud la rgyal po zla ba bzang po yis | |

mgo bos rab tu phyag ‘tshal lag pa’i padma sbyar ba yan lag mchog la bzhag nas zhus pa ni | |

rnal ‘byor dpal ldan dus ‘khor ka phreng ldan pa’i a ‘dus la ste mi rnams dgrol ba’i don du’o | 1 | Shong

thams cad mkhyen pa ye shes sku dang nyin mor byed pa’i sku ste pad ma’i ‘dab ma rgyas pa’i spyan | |

sangs rgyas seng ge’i khri la bzhugs lha’i mchog rnams kyis ni btud la rgyal po zla ba bzang po yis | |

mgo bos rab tu phyag ‘tshal lag pa’i pad ma sbyar ba yan lag mchog la bzhag nas zhus pa ni | |

rnal ‘byor dpal ldan dus ‘khor ka phreng ldan pa’i a ‘dus su ste mi rnams dgrol ba’i don du’o | 1 | Jonang

Here the Jonang revisers have omitted the “pa” in “bzhugs pa,” “seated,” in order to make room for a newly added syllable, “ni” after “kyis.” The final “pa” in Tibetan words is often omitted in verse, and this does not usually create misunderstanding. The syllable “ni” typically marks where the subject is set off from the predicate. Here it sets off the subject, “by the best of gods,” “lha’i mchog rnams kyis,” from the predicate, “is bowed to,” “btud,” in this short subordinate clause. This short phrase is in the passive construction, which is the norm in Tibetan, and is also common in Sanskrit. In English, we would not regard “by the best of gods” as the subject, but in Sanskrit it is so regarded in passive phrases, and also in Tibetan. This whole phrase, “is bowed to by the best of gods,” is only a part of the longer description of what King Suchandra has bowed to, which takes up most of the first two lines of this verse. Hence it is one of the objects of the verbal, “having bowed to,” Sanskrit “praṇamya,” Tibetan “rab tu phyag ‘tshal.” In the Sanskrit, all of these objects of this verbal are individually declined in the accusative case. In the Tibetan, it is only the “la” after “btud” that shows the accusative for the several preceding objects of this verbal. This is common in Tibetan translations of Sanskrit verse, where economy as to the total number of syllables must be achieved. By adding “ni” before “btud,” perhaps the Jonang revisers wished to help avoid possible confusion regarding the larger function of the “la” after “btud.” They also changed “lha” to “lha’i,” adding the genitive “’i.” This spelled out the “of” in the “best of gods,” which otherwise was only implied, and it did so without adding a syllable.

Then in the last line the Jonang revisers changed “la” to “su” after “’dus,” “group.” This may be regarded as a formal correction. Of the seven “la don” particles, namely, “su, ru, ra, du, na, la, tu,” all having the same function of showing the accusative, dative, or locative case, “su” is supposed to be used after final “s.” But, of course, the rules are not always followed. The Sanskrit “samaye” shows that the locative case is intended here.

śūnyaṃ jñānaṃ ca binduṃ vara-kuliśa-dharaṃ buddha-devâsurāṃś ca

bāhye dehe pare ca prakṛtiṣu puruṣaṃ pañca-viṃśâtmakaṃ ca |

dehe viśvasya mānaṃ tri-bhuvana-racanāṃ bhukti devâsurāṇām

etad vyākhyāhi samyak tri-daśa-nara-guro maṇḍalaṃ câbhiṣekam || 2 ||

The empty, primordial wisdom, the drop, the best and the holder of the thunderbolt, buddhas, gods, and demons, in the outer, in the body, and in the other, spirit among the substances consisting of the twenty-fifth, the measure of the cosmos in the body, the arrangement of the three worlds, the enjoyment of the gods and of the demons, the maṇḍala, and the initiation; O teacher of gods and men, please explain this completely.

stong pa ye shes kyang ste thig le mchog mchog rdo rje ‘dzin pa sangs rgyas lha dang lha min yang | |

phyi dang lus dang gzhan la yang ste rang bzhin rnams la skyes bu nyi shu lnga pa’i bdag nyid dang | |

lus la sna tshogs tshad dang srid pa gsum gyi bkod pa lha dang lha min rnams kyi longs spyod dang | |

dkyil ‘khor dang ni dbang ste skabs gsum pa dang mi yi bla mas ‘di dag yang dag bshad du gsol | 2 | Shong

stong pa ye shes kyang ste thig le mchog dang rdo rje ‘dzin pa sangs rgyas lha dang lha min yang | |

phyi dang lus dang gzhan la yang ste rang bzhin rnams dang skyes bu nyi shu lnga pa’i bdag nyid dang | |

lus la sna tshogs tshad dang srid pa gsum gyi bkod pa lha dang lha min rnams kyi longs spyod dang | |

dkyil ‘khor dang ni dbang ste skabs gsum pa dang mi yi bla ma ‘di rnams yang dag bshad du gsol | 2 | Jonang

In the Shong version of this verse we have the phrase “mchog mchog rdo rje ‘dzin pa,” corresponding to the Sanskrit “vara-kuliśa-dharaṃ.” The Tibetan word “mchog” translates the Sanskrit word “vara,” meaning “best.” As may be seen, there is only one “vara” in the Sanskrit, while there are two “mchog”s in the Tibetan. This is because the Vimalaprabhā commentary explains this compound as an “eka-dvandva” (Jagannatha Upadhyaya Sanskrit edition, p. 48). More fully, this is an “eka-śeṣa,” “the remainder of one,” “-dvandva,” “dual.” This is a rare type of dual compound in which one of the members is not stated, but only implied, and only the other one remains. An example of this is “vṛkṣau,” the word “vṛkṣa,” “tree,” declined in the dual, meaning “vṛkṣa and vṛkṣa,” “tree and tree.” The Vimalaprabhā construes this compound as “varaś ca varaś ca kuliśa-dharaś ca vara-kuliśa-dharam,” meaning “best and best and holder of the thunderbolt.” This is how the translation “mchog mchog rdo rje ‘dzin pa,” in the Shong version was intended to be understood, as if the three terms were joined by “dang,” “and,” in between them. However, the additional “vara” is not found in the verse itself. So in keeping with the strict literal accuracy that characterizes the Tibetan translations of Sanskrit texts, the Jonang revisers removed the second “mchog” that was only implied, and replaced it with “dang,” showing that this phrase is to be understood as a dual compound, “the best and the holder of the thunderbolt.”

In the second line of this verse, the syllable “la” after “rang bzhin rnams” in the Shong version was replaced by “dang” in the Jonang version. The “la” intended the locative case, as seen in the Sanskrit “prakṛtiṣu,” “among the substances.” The “dang,” “and,” was presumably intended to show that “puruṣa,” “spirit,” is not among the twenty-four substances posited in the Sāṃkhya system. Rather, as the twenty-fifth principle, it forms a category of its own outside the substances. So unlike in the first line, where the Jonang version became a more literal translation, here in the second line it became a less literal translation.

In the last line, the last three syllables of the phrase “skabs gsum pa dang mi yi bla mas ‘di dag” in the Shong version have been changed to “ma ‘di rnams” in the Jonang version. The first of these three syllables in the Shong version, “mas,” has the instrumental ending “s,” “by,” yielding “by the teacher of gods and men.” Since Tibetan sentences are usually passive, the instrumental ending usually marks the subject. Something is done “by” the subject. This is with verbs other than imperatives, as we have here, Sanskrit “vyākhyāhi,” Tibetan “yang dag bshad du gsol,” “please explain.” With an imperative verb, when not the implied “you,” the subject would normally be in the vocative case, “O teacher of gods and men,” and would not have the intrumental ending. The change from “mas” to “ma” in the Jonang version has deleted the instrumental ending, allowing this to be understood as a vocative.

Interestingly, the corresponding Sanskrit phrase as found in all three printed editions, “tri-daśa-nara-guror,” is not in the vocative case. It is in the ablative or genitive case. Here, followed by “maṇḍalaṃ,” the natural reading would be “the maṇḍala of the teacher of gods and men.” The early Tibetan translations clearly did not read it this way. This discrepancy must be explained. The obvious answer is that the Sanskrit manuscripts that they translated from must have had the vocative, “guro,” rather than the ablative/genitive, “guror.” The difference is only a single letter, and in this combination it is merely a mark above the following Sanskrit letter. But the evidence of the printed Sanskrit editions is weighty, since in their aggregate they used several old palm-leaf manuscripts, and no variant reading is reported for this. This phrase is repeated verbatim in the Vimalaprabhā commentary, bringing in additional manuscript evidence. Again, no variant reading is reported here (Upadhyaya edition, p. 51). So which reading is correct? Fortunately, we now have access to at least three old Sanskrit manuscripts that were used in Tibet, and these can be checked. In 1971 Lokesh Chandra published a facsimile of a Kālacakra-tantra manuscript from Narthang monastery in Sanskrit Manuscripts from Tibet. Here the letters are slightly indistinct, but it appears to read “guror.” Another old palm-leaf manuscript that formed the primary basis for the edition of the Kālacakra-tantra by Raghu Vira and Lokesh Chandra (1966) and also the edition by Biswanath Banerjee (1985) has now become available online. It is from Nepal, and is now in the Cambridge University Library. As may be seen, https://cudl.lib.cam.ac.uk/view/MS-ADD-01364/4, it clearly reads “guror.” Two other palm-leaf manuscripts used by Banerjee, which were photographed in Tibet, are not accessible to me to verify that they in fact read “guror” as in his edition. The printed edition of the Kālacakra-tantra that is included in the printed edition of the Vimalaprabhā was largely based, in volume 1 edited by Jagannatha Upadhyaya (1986), on a later but carefully written paper manuscript. I was able to check this manuscript from a microfiche of it made by the Institute for Advanced Studies of World Religions (MBB I-24). Contrary to the printed edition, it reads “guro” in both the Kālacakra-tantra verse (folio 29B, line 9) and also in the Vimalaprabhā commentary (folio 32B, line 11). An old palm-leaf manuscript of the Vimalaprabhā that was used in Tibet is held in the library of the Asiatic Society of Bengal, Calcutta (G 10766). It reads “guro,” as I was able to see from a microfilm of it (folio 20B, line 7). Another such Vimalaprabhā manuscript was reproduced by Lokesh Chandra in 2010 in Sanskrit Manuscripts from Tibet. It clearly reads “guro” (folio 23B, p. 20, the fourth folio side on that page, line 4). I then checked my microfilm of another palm-leaf manuscript of the Vimalaprabhā that was not used in the printed edition, from the Asiatic Society of Bengal (G 4727). It, too, reads “guro” (folio 37A, line 5). So despite every printed edition reading the ablative/genitive “guror” with no variant reading reported, and although “guror” appears even in some early Sanskrit manuscripts, the correct reading is clearly the vocative “guro.” This agrees with the early Tibetan translations, and is what would be expected with an imperative verb as we have here.

The last of the three-syllable phrase in the Shong version, “dag” after “’di,” “this,” was changed to “rnams” in the Jonang version. Since both of these show the plural, turning “this” into “these,” this can be regarded as a formal change. However, “rnams” is unambiguously a plural marker, while “dag” can specifically translate the Sanskrit dual number. Since this line of the Tibetan translation begins with two items, the maṇḍala and the initiation, “’di dag” could be understood to only refer to these two, while “’di rnams” clearly refers to all the preceding.

tuṣṭo ‘haṃ te sucandra pravara-sura-narai rākṣasair daitya-nāgair

na jñātaṃ vīta-rāgaiḥ parama-muni-kulair yat tvayā pṛṣṭam etat |

nirvāṇâdyaṃ dharântaṃ pada-gati-sahitaṃ deha-madhye samastaṃ

yogaṃ vyākhyāyamānaṃ śṛṇu su-nara-pate maṇḍalaṃ câbhiṣekam || 3 ||

I am pleased with you, Suchandra. By the best gods and men, by rākshasas, daityas, and nāgas, by those whose passions are gone, by the lineages of the highest sages, this that was asked by you is not known. The entire yoga, beginning with nirvāṇa and ending with the earth, together with the paths of words [i.e., the classes of letters], inside the body, and the maṇḍala and the initiation are about to be explained. Listen, good king!

zla ba bzang po khyod la bdag mgu gang zhig khyod kyis dris pa ‘di ni rab mchog lha rnams dang | |

mi dang srin po lha min klu dang chags bral thub mchog rigs rnams dag gis shes pa min pas so | |

mya ngan ‘das pa la sogs ‘dzin ma’i mthar thug tshig gi bgrod pa dang bcas sbyor ba mtha’ dag ni | |

lus dbus su ste dkyil ‘khor dag dang dbang ni bshad par bya yis mi yi bdag po bzang po nyon | 3 | Shong and Jonang

The Jonang version of this verse is the same as the Shong version.

So far, we have not seen any doctrinal changes in the Jonang version, but only clarifications of the meaning, primarily by means of the grammar.

Notes on the English Translation and the Sanskrit Text:

verse 1:

“sun,” dina-kara, literally, “day-maker.”

“whose eyes are long like lotus petals,” padma-patrâyatâkṣaṃ. This is a bahuvrīhi or possessive compound, “he whose eyes are long like lotus petals.” Long or large eyes are a mark of beauty in India. The Vimalaprabhā in explaining this compound uses “dīrgha,” meaning “long,” a synonym of “āyata” in this compound.

“on his head,” uttamâṅge, literally, “on [his] highest limb.”

“the group of vowels together with the consonants,” kali-yug-a-samaye. The natural reading would be kali-yuga-samaye, “at the time of the age of strife.” The Vimalaprabhā commentary, however, does not even notice such a reading, giving instead the interpretation as translated. Note that the word “samaya” in the meaning “group,” Tibetan “’dus,” is found only in Buddhist Sanskrit and in Pali, not in classical Sanskrit.

verse 2:

“enjoyment of the gods and of the demons,” bhukti devâsurāṇām. The word “bhukti” cannot really stand alone like this, without being declined. Nor can it really form part of a compound with the following “devâsurāṇām.” It stands in this way because of the meter, which requires a short syllable here. The editor of this volume of the Vimalaprabhā, Jagannatha Upadhyaya, has put “bhukti(r)devâsurāṇām” to call attention to this problem, adding the declensional ending “r” in parentheses. Of course, it cannot actually be added, because it would make the syllable long.

“gods,” tri-daśa (in the phrase, “O teacher of gods and men,” tri-daśa-nara-guro), literally, “the thirty.” This is a common short form of “the thirty-three,” which a standard term for the thirty-three main gods in Hinduism.

verse 3:

“together with the paths of words,” pada-gati-sahitaṃ, explained in the Vimalaprabhā commentary as the classes of letters, i.e., the groups of gutturals, palatals, labials, etc. This is a good example of how words must be used unusually in order to fit the meter, especially here in the seven-syllable middle segment of a twenty-one syllable line, where the syllables must be six short followed by one long.

“about to be explained,” vyākhyāyamānaṃ. This is a present passive participle, meaning “being explained,” not “about to be explained.” It so happens that this present passive participle exactly fits the meter, so it was apparently used in place of the future passive participle. Since the Buddha has not yet begun his explanations, and therefore these things are not yet “being explained,” the intended meaning would be that of the future passive participle, “about to be explained.” None of the three possible forms of the future passive participle, neither the usual one, vyākhyātavyam, nor the other two possibilities, vyākhyeyam or vyākhyānīyam, would fit the meter.

“good king,” su-nara-pate, “king” is literally “ruler of men.”

Category: Jonangpa, Kalacakra, Kālacakratantra, Vimalaprabha | No comments yet


The three great Perfections in The Voice of the Silence

By admin on August 7, 2018 at 3:21 pm

The Voice of the Silence – verse 103 says :“The Path are two ; the great Perfections three ; six are the Virtues that transform the body into the Tree of Knowledge.”

The question is : what are these three great Perfections which are listed separately from the six Virtues (pāramitās) ?

Note 34 of verse 306 of The Voice of Silence identifies the Sambhogakaya as the same as Nirmanakaya, “ but with the additional lustre of the ‘three perfections,’ one of which is entire obliteration of all earthly concerns,” therefore identifying one of these “great perfections” as “obliteration of all earthly concerns”.

Schlagintweit (Buddhism in Tibet, 1863) has a similar understanding about Sambhogakaya as : “the body of bliss and the reward of fulfilling the three conditions of perfection.”

So, from these statements, the great Perfections called in The Voice of Silence are not Paramitas, but maybe the path of practice of the Paramitas. And if we consider that each set of practices brings a specific result, it would explain the statement for one of them about “obliteration of all earthly concerns”. Then we need to understand why this path is triple and what it encompasses.

Hermann Oldenberg says something similar to the Voice of Silence : “The primary demand made upon the monk is : thou shall separate thyself from this world1. He added later (p.288) : “Still we find in the sacred texts expressions which point to a definite path of thought traversing the wide range of moral action and passion, a distribution of all that tends to happiness and deliverance under certain leading. Above all there recur continually three categories, to some extent like the headings of three chapters on ethics : uprightness, self-concentration, and wisdom2.

In the narrative of Buddha’s last addresses, the discourse in which he places before his followers the doctrine of the path of salvation, is time after time couched in the following words : This is uprightness. This is self-concentration. This is wisdom.

Here, Oldenberg refers to the Mahâparinirvâna Sutra – The Great Passing Discourse, where we can read : “2.4 Then the Lord, while staying at Koțigâma, gave a comprehensive discourse: This is morality, this is concentration, this is wisdom. Concentration, when imbued with morality, brings great fruit and profit. Wisdom, when imbued with concentration, brings great fruit and profit. The mind imbued with wisdom becomes completely free from the corruptions, that is, from the corruption of sensuality, of becoming, of false views and of ignorance.”3

One of the renowned Tibetan Buddhism Traditions Holder from the 19th century, Jamgön Kongtrul Lodrö Tayé has a clear explanation : “ That the paramitas are definitively six is derived from the fact that when all the dharmas that the boddhisattvas practice are condensed, they are contained within the three trainings.4 The Ornament of the Mahayana Sutras5 explains:

The Victor perfectly elucidated the six pāramitās in the context of the three trainings. Three [pāramitās belong to] the first [training]; the last two are the [other] two forms [of training]; and one [pāramitā] accompanies all three [trainings].

Because the Six Pāramitās are usually listed in a specific order : “[The Pāramitās] are presented in this order because the latter ones arise on the basis of the earlier ones; they [progress from] inferior to superior, and [grow] from coarse to subtle.6, starting with Generosity, Ethical Conduct, Patience, Diligence, Meditative Concentration and Wisdom, we can deduct that :

– Generosity, Ethical Conduct and Patience may belong to the first training path,

– Diligence is the second training path

– Meditative Concentration is the third training path

All these pāramitās are endowed by the sixth one [Wisdom].

So, according to these concordant sources, the three great Perfections as stated in The Voice of Silence could mean the three Paths to the great Perfections, one of them [probably the first training path] leading to the “obliteration of all earthly concerns”.

1 BUDDHA: His Life, His Doctrine, His Order Chapter III. The Tenet of the Path to the extinction of suffering, p.287 from the English translation of William Hoey, Luzac 1928)

2 The Pâli expressions are : sîla, samâdhi, pannâ

3 The Long Discourses of the Buddha, translated from the Pali, Wisdom Publications, 1987, p.240

4 The three trainings (shikșhā, bslab pa) are the training in ethical conduct (shilashikșhā , tshul khrims kyi bslab pa), the training in samādhi (samādhishikșhā, ting nge ‘dzin gyi bslab pa), and the training in wisdom (prajñāshikșhā, shes rab kyi bslab pa).

Ornament of the Mahayana Sutras, Chapter 17, verse 7. Toh. 4020, f. 21b2-3; Dg. T. Beijing 70:851

6 Ornament of the Mahayana Sutras, Chapter 17, verse 14. Toh. 4020, f. 21b7; Dg. T. Beijing 70:851

Category: Book of the Golden Precepts | 2 comments


The Signature of Koot Hoomi in Mahatma Letter IV

By Ingmar de Boer on June 26, 2018 at 10:26 pm

In “The Orthography and Pronunciation of ‘Koot Hoomi’”1 we have derived a Sanskrit orthography of the name, as kuthumi or kuṭhumi, written in devanāgarī as कुथुमि or कुठुमि.2 There is however another source for the orthography of the name, in Mahatma Letter IV (Chronologically No. 5).3 KH’s signature is written there, besides in roman script, in devanāgarī:

The first thing we may notice looking at the signature, is that it is not a rendering of Sanskrit, but of a modern Indian language like Hindi, where the implicit a- or shwa-sound in consonants is dropped under specific circumstances. Without accounting for this shwa deletion, the signature would read kuṭhahūmī lālasiṅha. There are some peculiarities to the letters, probably due to the specific hand of KH, but if we interpret the signature, rendering it in standard devanāgarī, it is written कुटहूमी लालसिंह, and, accounting for shwa deletion, it would read kuṭhūmī lālsiṅh in roman (IAST) transliteration.

There are three differences to what we have found earlier:

  1. The ṭh sound in “Koot Hoomi” is not written using the single consonant ṭha, but using the two consonants ṭa and ha. Perhaps this might suggest a different origin than the Sanskrit kuthumi/kuṭhumi, contrary to the reference to the Viṣṇupurāṇa in The Theosophist.1, 2
  2. The u-sound in “Hoomi” is long instead of short, making the accent shift to the syllable “Hoo”, in accordance with the common pronunciation.
  3. The i-sound in “Hoomi” is long instead of short.

There are other signatures of KH in the Mahatma Letters in other interesting-looking scripts, and perhaps more information on the orthography and correct pronunciation is to be derived from those.


  1. http://prajnaquest.fr/blog/the-orthography-and-pronunciation-of-koot-hoomi/
  2. R. Ragoonath Row, “The Puranas on the Dynasties of the Moryas and the Koothoomi” in The Theosophist Vol. V No. 3 (December 1883), p. 99, later published in “Five Years of Theosophy” p. 482-484, and still later in CW VI, 40-42
  3. The Theosophy Wiki: http://theosophy.wiki/en/Mahatma_Letter_No._5



Category: Mahatma Letters | 3 comments


The Orthography and Pronunciation of “Koot Hoomi”

By Ingmar de Boer on June 17, 2018 at 4:27 pm

In a short article in the Theosophist (Vol. V No. 3 (December 1883), p. 991) by Mr. R. Ragoonath Row entitled “The Puranas on the Dynasties of the Moryas and the Koothoomi” we find an interesting reference about a Ṛṣi named “Kuthumi”. In an editorial comment, HPB indicates that there may or may not be a connection between the theosophical Mahātmā and this Ṛṣi “of that name”. From this last phrase we might derive that if we know the correct Sanskrit spelling of the name of this Ṛṣi, we also know the correct Sanskrit spelling (and therefore pronunciation) of the name of the theosophical Mahātmā.

The article further relates that the Ṛṣi is mentioned in Viṣṇupurāṇa III.6.2 In H.H. Wilson’s 1840 translation (which was known to HPB), the location is easily found, on p. 282:

Lokakshi, Kuthumi, Kushidi, and Langali were the pupils of Paushyinji; and by them and their disciples many other branches were formed.

In the critical edition of the Viṣṇupurāṇa by M.M. Pathak (of 1997-1999), we find the passage in line III.6.6 (here from GRETIL):

lokākṣiḥ kuthumiś caiva kuṣīdī lāṅgalis tathā / pauṣpiñjiśiṣyās tadbhedaiḥ saṃhitā bahulīkṛtāḥ // ViP_3,6.6 //

The IAST transliteration used here is “kuthumi”, spelled कुथुमि in devanāgarī. Moreover, in the 1866 edition of Wilson’s translation (Vol. III p. 60) a note is added by Fitzedward Hall, mentioning that the name is alternatively spelled “kuśumi”.

The pronunciation of the name naturally varies in different theosophical and other circles, but the most generally used English spelling “Koot Hoomi” wrongly suggests that it is pronounced with a pause between kut and humi, as does the common abbreviation “K.H.”. Also, it is generally pronounced with the accent on “hu”, which would be incorrect. The syllables would be “ku”, “thu” and “mi”, the accent being on on the first syllable. For correct hyphenation (in some languages) this will also make a difference. The spelling with “oo” also suggests that the “u” vowels are long, while in fact they are short, as is the “i” at the end.

Knowing the Sanskrit orthography, we have a starting point to find out more about the etymology of the name. Obviously, a reference to the “koothoompa’s”, supposedly a Tibetan group of followers of Koot Hoomi, should not be taken as a clue to a possible Sino-Tibetan origin. Further, the probable spelling of the name in Tibetan (Wiley transliteration) would be “ku thu mi”, from which “kut hum pa” or “ku thum pa” would be incorrect derivations.

Looking up “kuthumi” some of the available Sanskrit dictionaries (Monier-Williams, Böhtlink & Roth), we find that the word is a proper name which is identical to “kuthumin” and that a variant would be “kuṭhumi”. Some other places are mentioned where the name is used. Also the alternative spelling “kuśumi” indicated by Fitzedward Hall may be a clue as to the origin. Perhaps we might think of a Dravidian origin of the word. However, following up on this is beyond the scope of this short note.


1. Two years later (1885), this article was published in “Five Years of Theosophy” p. 482-484, and in 1954 in CW VI, 40-42.
2. See also the Theosophy Wiki: https://theosophy.wiki/en/Koot_Hoomi


Category: Sanskrit Texts | No comments yet


The Uttara-tantra: The Sublime Continuum?

By David Reigle on May 31, 2018 at 11:51 pm

A new English translation of the Ratna-gotra-vibhāga, also known as the Uttara-tantra, was published last year (2017), along with the commentary by Rgyal tshab dar ma rin chen. It was translated by Bo Jiang, and is titled: The Sublime Continuum and Its Explanatory Commentary, by Maitreyanātha and Noble Asaṅga, with The Sublime Continuum Supercommentary, by Gyaltsap Darma Rinchen. In recent decades, this famous text attributed to Maitreya has increasingly come to be referred to as The Sublime Continuum, a translation of the Tibetan translation of its Uttara-tantra alias, Rgyud bla ma. Unfortunately for Maitreya, this is not what the title Uttara-tantra means, not how it would be understood in India. It is an early misunderstanding of Rgyud bla ma, going back to at least fourteenth-century Tibet. This can now be seen, thanks to the discovery of the original Sanskrit text of the Ratnagotravibhāga in 1934 and its publication in 1950. The early misunderstanding apparently resulted, at least in part, from ambiguities in the Tibetan translation of this text.

As is well known, a single Tibetan word must often translate two or more different Sanskrit words. The Tibetan word rgyud must translate the Sanskrit words tantra as well as saṃtāna (and its derivative, sāṃtānika). A tantra is usually a kind of “text,” and also the “teaching” or “doctrine” or “science” taught in it, while a saṃtāna is a “continuum,” usually the continuum of a person. Of the twenty-one occurrences of the word rgyud in the canonical Tibetan translation of the Uttara-tantra and its Indian commentary, it translates tantra seven times, saṃtāna five times, and its derivative sāṃtānika nine times. Of the seven times rgyud translates tantra, one is in the title, five are in the title as repeated in the five chapter colophons, and one is in chapter 1, verse 160, referring to the title.

So the word rgyud as found in the title, Rgyud bla ma, translates tantra, whereas the word rgyud as found in the text itself translates saṃtāna (or sāṃtānika), with the single exception of in verse 1.160 where it refers to the title. The word rgyud as saṃtāna, used in the text itself, does indeed refer to a continuum, although that of a sentient being (e.g., 4.46: saṃtāna . . . prajāsu = ‘gro ba’i rgyud; 1.25 commentary: sattva-citta-saṃtāna = sems can gyi sems kyi rgyud). But the word rgyud as tantra, used in the title, refers to a teaching or a text. While “continuum” is one of the meanings of tantra, our concern is the meaning that was intended by the author. An uttara-tantra is a later or additional teaching, and has long been familiar in India as the concluding part of the famous medical work, Suśruta-saṃhitā. Thus, uttara-tantra refers to a teaching, a teaching that is a continuation, but not a continuum. Here uttara is usually understood to mean “later,” as contrasted with pūrva, “earlier,” but also implying its other main meaning, “higher,” i.e., a more advanced teaching.

Indeed, the Mahāparinirvāṇa-sūtra uses the example of a physician teaching the eight branches of medicine to his son, and only when these are mastered teaching him the uttara-tantra, the later and higher teaching. It then compares this with the Buddha first teaching about purifying the mental/moral afflictions (kleśa), the absence of self (anātman), etc., as the earlier branches, and only then teaching the uttara-tantra, the later and higher teaching, that of the tathāgata-garbha. The tathāgata-garbha, “embryo of a buddha,” i.e., the buddha-nature found in everyone, is of course the main subject of the book called Uttara-tantra. There can be little doubt that the authors of the Uttara-tantra and its Indian commentary were familiar with the Mahāparinirvāṇa-sūtra, since the reader is referred to it for more information in the commentary on verse 1.153.

The meaning of the title Uttara-tantra as “The Later/Higher Teaching” is confirmed in verse 1.160, saying, “but here in the later/higher (uttare) teaching (tantre),” as contrasted with what was taught earlier (pūrva). What was taught earlier (1.156) is that “all is empty in every way” (śūnyaṃ sarvaṃ sarvathā).” What was taught here later is “the existence of the element” (dhātv-astitvam), that “the buddha-element exists in every sentient being” (buddha-dhātuḥ . . . sattve sattve ‘sti). The buddha-element is a synonym of the tathāgata-garbha, the primary subject of the book called Uttara-tantra. The Tibetan commentators who take the title Rgyud bla ma to mean the sublime continuum understand this to refer to the unbroken continuum of the buddha-element, or a synonym of it such as the dharma-dhātu. Ironically, Gyaltsap Darma Rinchen is not one of these commentators. Gyaltsap favors the later (phyi ma) teaching as the meaning of the title. Bo Jiang did not use “the sublime continuum” in his 2008 thesis that became the book of that title. That title may have been an editorial change.

Another kind of ambiguity in the Tibetan translation, one that may have contributed to understanding the title as the sublime continuum, is seen in verse 1.160, the only place in the text where the words uttara and tantra occur. Both terms are in the locative case, uttare and tantre, “in the uttara tantra.” In the Tibetan translation of this verse, however, the locative case marker was omitted in order to fit the meter, which is strictly regulated by the total number of syllables per line: slar yang bla ma’i rgyud ‘dir ni. Thus, in Tibetan translation, this verse no longer explicitly says that the existence of the element was taught “in” the uttara tantra. Moreover, the final Tibetan “ni” in this line typically marks off the subject, making it at least possible to take the uttara tantra as the element that was taught. If the buddha-element is equated with the uttara tantra, it becomes easy to see the uttara tantra as the sublime continuum rather than the later teaching. Nonetheless, there are weighty reasons to avoid making this equation.

It is only fitting to bring in comments made by award-winning Tibetan translator Gavin Kilty from a 2007 post to an internet Kālacakra forum that started this inquiry. Referring to “The Sublime Continuum,” he wrote: “If this really is a term referring to the tathāgata essence, the subject of the first and main chapter of the book, then you would expect the term uttara-tantra to crop up many times in the book itself. How often does it appear? Not once. Nowhere (except for once when it refers to the book itself) is it to be found in the discussion of this topic. Terms used are tathāgata essence (de bshegs snying po, tathāgata-garbha), element (khams, dhātu) and lineage (rigs, gotra). These three terms are used interchangeably to describe the same thing but uttara-tantra is not used once.” Gavin had translated the first chapter of the Uttara-tantra for the FPMT, unpublished.

Besides verse 1.160, the one known Indian source that explains the title, Uttara-tantra, is a ṭippaṇī, brief textual notes, by Vairocana-rakṣita. He glosses it as uttara-grantha, taking tantra as grantha, “book.” Likewise, in the very early Chinese translation of the Uttara-tantra made from the Sanskrit by Ratnamati in 511 C.E. (Nanjio no. 1236, Taisho no. 1611), the word tantra in verse 1.160 is translated with the Chinese equivalent for śāstra, “treatise” (Jikido Takasaki, A Study on the Ratnagotravibhāga (Uttaratantra), p. 306 fn. 18). Thus, tantra was not understood as a continuum. The title of this text, then, Ratna-gotra-vibhāgo Mahāyānôttara-tantra-śāstram, was apparently understood in India as “The Ratna-gotra-vibhāga, A Treatise on the Later/Higher Teaching of the Mahāyāna.” The descriptive title was not understood as “A Treatise on the Sublime Continuum of the Mahāyāna.” As noted by many commentators, the later/higher teaching of the Mahāyāna obviously refers to the third promulgation of the Buddhist teachings, or turning of the wheel of the dharma, in contradistinction to the second promulgation. This may be described as a continuation, even a sublime continuation, but not as a continuum, the sublime continuum.


Category: Ratnagotravibhaga | No comments yet


More on the Recently Rediscovered Kālacakra-mūla-tantra Section

By David Reigle on March 31, 2018 at 11:52 pm

Not long after my July 9, 2017, post, “Kālacakra-mūla-tantra Section Rediscovered,” I received valuable input on it from three persons, all highly accomplished scholars and translators. I am very grateful to them for this. I delayed posting this information, thinking that I might also be able to add something about the contents of this text. This turned out to be a bigger task than I expected, because of the possibly controversial nature of some of its contents, and I ended up not doing so. So after this too long delay, I here post and discuss the valuable information that I received from these three.


The Title

First, on the title, Harunaga Isaacson kindly pointed out that my translation of it is not accurate. I had written: It is the Para-guru-guṇa-dhara section, the section on “the good qualities possessed by the best guru.” This may give the general meaning, but the Sanskrit title cannot be construed this way. It must be construed as: “Bearing/Holding the good qualities of the best guru.” Further, Prof. Isaacson noted that the Sanskrit title given in the text might possibly be a back translation into Sanskrit from Tibetan, and therefore might not be the original title. The Tibetan title by which the text is usually quoted by Tibetan writers, given on the title page of the Tibetan text, is bla ma’i yon tan yongs su bzung pa [ba]. This, as he suggested, would more likely represent Sanskrit Guru-guṇa-parigraha, for which he suggested an English translation, “Taking/Seizing on the good qualities of the teacher.” He further noted that this is reminiscent of the famous line, often quoted also by Kālacakra authors: ācāryasya guṇā grāhyā doṣā naiva kadācana. This may be translated as: “The good qualities of the teacher should be apprehended/perceived, never the faults at any time.” Prof. Isaacson later added that even the Tibetan title that is given in the opening lines as the translation of the Sanskrit title, Gtso bo[r] bla ma’i yon tan bzung pa [ba], might suggest as a possible underlying Sanskrit title something like Pradhāna-guru-guṇa-grahaṇa rather than the given Para-guru-guṇa-dhara.


The Text and Its Authenticity

As John Newman reminded me, he had referred to this text already in a note to an article published in 1987. I had a memory of this, and actually looked for it, but could not find his reference before I made my post. He had written that this text was known to Bu ston, who was one of the main compilers of the Tibetan Buddhist canon, but it was not included in the Narthang manuscript Kangyur that he helped compile. This Narthang manuscript Kangyur became the (or a) basis, whether directly or indirectly, for most (if not all) of the later blockprint Kangyurs, which helps to explain why this text is absent in them. John Newman in his article, “The Paramādibuddha (the Kālacakra Mūlatantra) and Its Relation to the Early Kālacakra Literature,” Indo-Iranian Journal, vol. 30, 1987, p. 99 note 17, wrote:

“Bu ston (writing ca. 1322) reports three erstwhile sections of the Kālacakra mūlatantra whose authenticity was questioned: (1) lCe spyang rol pa, (2) rDo rje glu gar, and (3) bLa ma’i yon tan yongs su bzung ba (Nishioka 1983: 70; index #1551-1553). Phur lcog Ngag dbang byams pa lists the same three texts in his dkar chag to the sNar thang Kanjur: sNar thang bka’ ‘gyur, KA, f. 104a/3-4 (I am indebted to Ven. Jampa Samten for pointing this passage out to me). Ngag dbang byams pa says these texts are not in the sNar thang Kanjur because Bu ston did not insert them among the tantras. Even so, he adds that Karma pa Rang byung rdo rje and dPa’ bo gTsug lag ‘phreng ba accepted these texts as authentic. He also mentions that they appear in the dkar chag of dBus pa bLo gsal, one of the editors of the Old sNar thang Kanjur. It is possible that these texts still exist in one of the gsung ‘bum or other text collections of the Karma bKa’ rgyud school.”

The reference to Nishioka 1983 is to “Index to the Catalogue Section of Bu-ston’s ‘History of Buddhism’ (III),” Annual Report of the Institute for the Study of Cultural Exchange, The University of Tōkyō, vol. 6, 1983, pp. 47-201. There we read, p. 70:

“bkol ba’i rgyud kyi dum bu gyi jo’i ‘gyur | yang bkol ba’i rgyud lce spyang rol pa dang | rdo rje glu gar dang | bla ma’i yon tan yongs su bzung ba dang gsum | ‘di rnams kha cig ma dag par ‘dod do ||”

Besides giving the three texts listed by John Newman, this tells us that they were translated by Gyi jo, the Tibetan lotsawa who worked with the Indian teacher Bhadrabodhi to produce the first ever Tibetan translations of Kālacakra texts, including the Kālacakra-tantra and its large Vimala-prabhā commentary. It also tells us that these three texts were regarded as “not pure” (ma dag pa), i.e., not authentic as John Newman put it better, by “some” (kha cig), the “some” remaining unnamed.

The dkar chag, the index or table of contents volume, of the Narthang Kangyur (snar thang bka’ ‘gyur), provides further information, as summarized by John Newman. This dkar chag is to the later Narthang blockprint edition. The Tibetan, from the Comparative Kangyur, vol. 106, p. 267, lines 17-21, is:

“rtsa rgyud kyi dum bu bla ma’i yon tan yongs bzung dang rdo rje glu gar gyi rgyud | ce spyang tshogs rol gyi rgyud de rtsa ba’i rgyud gsum du grags pa | bu ston gyis rgyud du ‘jug par ma mdzad pas ‘dir yang med | karma pa rang byung rdo rje | dpa’ bo gtsug lag ‘phreng ba bcas la rgyud rnam dag tu bzhed | dbus pa blo gsal gyi dkar chag tu’ang yod do ||”

After listing the three texts, this tells us that they were not included among the tantras (in the old manuscript Narthang Kangyur) by Bu ston, so they are also not included here (in the new blockprint Narthang Kangyur). It then says that Karma pa Rang byung rdo rje (1284-1339, the Third Karmapa) and dPa’ bo gTsug lag ‘phreng ba (1504-1566, Kagyu author of Chos ‘byung khas pa’i dga’ ston, “History of Buddhism: A Scholar’s Feast,” an important historical work comparable to Bu ston’s Chos ‘byung, History of Buddhism), accepted them as “pure” (rnam dag), i.e., authentic. It adds that they are also found in the dkar chag (of the old manuscript Narthang Kangyur) written by dBus pa bLo gsal (13-14th century).

To these sources may now be added the data from the dkar chag of the very old Yunglo Kangyur (g.yung lo’i bka’ ‘gyur), also written Yongle (from the Chinese). This was the first blockprint edition of the Kangyur, produced in 1410 C.E. Its data on this has become conveniently available in the Comparative Kangyur, vol. 105, p. 384, lines 14-16:

“rtsa mi’i rgyud gsum du grags pa lce spyang rol pa dang | rdo rje glu gar dang | bla ma’i yon tan yongs su bzungs ba gsum | rgyud yang dag du mi mdzad pas ma bkod do ||”

This source indicates Tsa mi (rtsa mi) as the translator of these three texts, rather than Gyi jo as was stated by Bu ston in the catalogue section of his Chos ‘byung, “History of Buddhism.” The colophon of the rediscovered Para-guru-guṇa-dhara (as I will continue to call it) also indicates Tsa mi as the translator (see below). Like the dkar chag of the Narthang edition, this dkar chag says that these texts were not included (in the Yunglo edition) because they were not considered to be authentic. By whom they were not considered to be authentic is not stated.

Regarding another one of these three texts besides the Para-guru-guṇa-dhara, namely, the Rdo rje glu gar gyi rgyud, we also have some material from it. This was found, again thanks to the ability to search the extensive Buddhist Digital Resource Center database of digital Tibetan texts. The Third Karmapa Rang byung rdo rje begins his Dpal dus kyi ‘khor lo’i mchod pa’i cho ga with a long quotation from the Rdo rje glu gar gyi rgyud. This is in Dus ‘khor phyogs bsgrigs chen mo, vol. 12, folio side 573 ff., and also in his gsung ‘bum available at the Buddhist Digital Resource Center, vol. 10, folio sides 455-469.


The Translator

According to the colophon, as pointed out to me by Cyrus Stearns, the translator of this text is Tsa mi Sangs rgyas grags pa. This agrees with what the dkar chag of the Yunglo edition of the Kangyur says. Here is the colophon (folio side 639, lines 3-4):

rgya gar phyogs kyi paṇḍi ta || bod kyi phyogs kyi lotstsha ba || rgya bod gnyis kyi skyes cig po || me nyag chen po pa zhes grags pa’i || mkhas pa sangs rgyas grags pas bsgyur || se ston lotstsha ba la gnang ||

This tells us, as explained by Cyrus Stearns, that the text was translated by the pandit Sangs rgyas grags pa, who was both an Indian pandit (rgya gar phyogs kyi paṇḍi ta) and a Tibetan translator (bod kyi phyogs kyi lotstsha ba). He was called Me nyag chen po pa (or Mi nyag pa) because he was from Mi nyag, a part of eastern Tibet near China. He had come to India when he was young, where he lived for a long time, becoming an Indian pandit. In fact, he is said to have been the only Tibetan ever to have become an abbot of a major Indian monastery (Nālandā and/or Vajrāsana). He is usually referred to in short as Tsa mi (or rTsa mi). The last phrase of the colophon tells as that he gave this translation to Se ston lotsawa, who was one of his main disciples.

Tsa mi, living in India, translated the entire Vimala-prabhā commentary into Tibetan. This is not the translation of the Vimala-prabhā that was included in the Tengyur, and it was long presumed to be lost. But it, like the Para-guru-guṇa-dhara, was recently recovered and was published in the same series. Its first three chapters are found in Dus ‘khor phyogs bsgrigs chen mo, vol. 3, and its last two chapters are found in vol. 4, immediately before the Para-guru-guṇa-dhara.

According to the Rwa tradition as reported by Bu ston, translated by John Newman (The Wheel of Time, 1985, p. 69, or his 1987 thesis, The Outer Wheel of Time, p. 84), Tsa mi and Somanātha and Abhayākara-gupta and others were co-disciples of Kālacakrapāda the younger. The translations of the Kālacakra-tantra and Vimala-prabhā made by Somanātha and ‘Bro lotsawa are the ones that are now found in the Kangyur and Tengyur. Since Tsa mi and his co-disciples lived within two generations from the time of the introduction of the Sanskrit Kālacakra texts into India, there would be no reason to suspect a corruption in the transmission lineage of the Para-guru-guṇa-dhara to the translator Tsa mi.

Something I noticed in the Para-guru-guṇa-dhara also speaks for its authenticity as an originally Sanskrit text. The one known and undisputed section of the Kālacakra-mūla-tantra is the Sekoddeśa. It is written entirely in the anuṣṭubh or śloka meter, have eight syllables per metrical foot. This meter was always translated into Tibetan in metrical feet having seven syllables. Most of the Tibetan translation of the Para-guru-guṇa-dhara also consists of metrical feet having seven syllables. However, at folio side 612, line 5, it switches from a seven-syllable metrical foot to a nine-syllable metrical foot. It then switches back to a seven-syllable metrical foot on folio side 617, line 6. The nine-syllable metrical feet indicate a change in meter in the Sanskrit original. A forger would hardly have made this change in a text that was expected to be entirely in the anuṣṭubh or śloka meter.

Category: Kalacakra, Kālacakratantra | 1 comment


Book of the Golden Precepts in Tibetan?

By David Reigle on January 31, 2018 at 11:33 pm

In my “Report on a Search for the Book of the Golden Precepts in Kalimpong, March 1998,”1 I quoted Anthony Elenjimittam saying that he, with the help of a Tibetan Lama, had compared the original (apparently Tibetan) of The Voice of the Silence, the “Book of the Golden Precepts,” with Blavatsky’s English translation, in Kalimpong around 1950:

“In my return to Kalimpong I stayed in the Tibetan monastery, taking part in their choral office and learning various branches of Mahayana and Tantrism. It was in that monastery that I first read with Lama Ping the Voice of Silence, the Book of Golden Precepts, with the English translation by Helena Petrovna Blavatsky. With the help of the Tibetan Lama I could compare the English translation made by Helena Petrovna Blavatsky with the original, taking notes from the interpretation given by the Lama.”2

Some years later (around 1965), he published an edition of The Voice of Silence in Bombay, with his own commentary. From the late 1990s until last month I had been unable to consult this edition, to see if he said anything more in it about the original. The only copy of this book listed on WorldCat (OCLC) is held by the British Library. They were not willing to lend it through interlibrary loan or to photocopy it or scan it. Finally, with the help of intermediaries Robert Hütwohl and Leslie Price, arrangements were made for Janet Lee to visit the British Library and see it in person. She was able to photograph all of its pages with her smartphone, and she kindly sent them to me. So at last I was able to see what is in this book.

The WorldCat listing, apparently provided by the British Library, is as follows:

The Voice of Silence. Translated from the Tibetan by Helena Petrovna Blavatsky [or rather, written by her]. With a commentary by Anthony Elenjimittam. Bombay: Aquinas Publications, [1965?].

From this, it seemed that the bracketed “[or rather, written by her]” was included by Anthony Elenjimittam in the title. This would contradict his statement quoted above, made in 1983. In fact, access to his book showed that this bracketed material is not on his title page, but is an addition apparently made by the person who catalogued the book for the British Library. This is quite irregular for librarians to do, which is why it seemed that the bracketed material in the listing was on the title page and was put there by Elenjimittam himself. Instead, what we find in his book is:

On the cover: “Voice of Silence, English Translation by Helena P. Blavatskey, with a Commentary by Anthony Elenjimittam”

On the title page: “The Voice of Silence, Translated from the Tibetan by Helena Petrovna Blavatskey, With a Commentary by Anthony Elenjimittam”

From Anthony Elenjimittam’s Introduction, dated 1964, p. ii: “. . . THE VOICE OF THE SILENCE, or fragments from the Book of the Golden Precepts which has been beautifully translated by Helena Petrovna Blavatskey from the original Tibetan, . . .” “While preserving the original translation of the text from Tibetan by H.P.B., . . .”

From Elenjimittam’s “commentary and annotations,” pp. 35-36: “A Tibetan Lama with whom I first read the VOICE OF SILENCE in the original Tibetan and in its English translation . . . .”

As may be seen, he consistently reported that he had compared this with the original Tibetan. No one has yet found a Tibetan original for the “Book of the Golden Precepts,” part of which was allegedly translated into English by Blavatsky as The Voice of the Silence. This is despite the fact that huge numbers of Tibetan books have become available in recent decades. As I wrote in my 1998 Report, Lama Ping (actually named Lama Tinley) was from Bhutan, and went back there some time after working with Elenjimittam. The presumption was that he had the Tibetan book with him, and took it back to Bhutan when he returned there. He died in 1985. So we still seek a Tibetan original of the “Book of the Golden Precepts.”



  1. Published in Blavatsky’s Secret Books: Twenty Years’ Research, 1999, pp. 151-153 (attached as: report_search_golden_precepts_kalimpong).
  2. This statement is found in his book, Cosmic Ecumenism via Hindu-Buddhist Catholicism: An Autobiography of an Indian Dominican Monk, p. 270. Bombay: Aquinas Publications, [1983].

Category: Book of the Golden Precepts | 1 comment


Hans Malmstedt on Occult Chronology

By David Reigle on December 3, 2017 at 4:37 am

In the posts of April 29th, July 18th, and July 24th, 2012, reference was made to material by Hans Malmstedt that was cited by David Pratt. The two articles by Hans Malmstedt have now become easily available in their source journal, The Theosophical Path, posted at the Theosophical University Press website. I have extracted the two articles and now post them here. They are:

The Cycles of the Cosmos, Hans Malmstedt 1931

Our Position in Time on Globe D, Hans Malmstedt 1933

Category: Occult Chronology | No comments yet


The Three Natures in the Pañcaśatikā Prajñāpāramitā

By David Reigle on September 7, 2017 at 11:53 pm

The Pañcaśatikā Prajñāpāramitā sūtra, the sūtra on Perfection of Wisdom in Five Hundred Lines, when describing the aggregates, etc., uses three terms that apparently refer to the three natures (svabhāva) taught in Yogācāra texts. As a Prajñā-pāramitā sūtra, it would be part of the second promulgation of the Dharma, while the sūtras behind the Yogācāra texts are part of the third promulgation of the Dharma. Because of this, the Tibetan teacher Dolpopa regarded the Pañcaśatikā Prajñāpāramitā as a text of definitive meaning (nītārtha), and characterized it as one of the Buddha’s own auto-commentaries (rang ‘grel ) on the extensive Prajñā-pāramitā sūtras. Dolpopa taught that the Prajñā-pāramitā sūtras should be understood by way of the three natures found in these “auto-commentaries.” However, one of the three terms used in the Pañcaśatikā Prajñāpāramitā in its Tibetan translation does not seem to fit well as referring to the three natures. The original Sanskrit text was long lost, and with no Indian commentary to consult even in Tibetan translation, there was no way to determine what was actually meant by this term. Fortunately, the Sanskrit original was recovered in Tibet and published in 2016 as number 20 of the important series, Sanskrit Texts from the Tibetan Autonomous Region.1

The three terms in the Tibetan translation of the Pañcaśatikā Prajñāpāramitā, near the beginning, are dngos po med pa, dngos po ngan pa, and dngos po yod pa, translated by Edward Conze in 1973 as “non-existence,” “a poorish kind of existence,” and “existence,” and translated by Cyrus Stearns in 2010 as “nonexistent,” “an inferior existence,” and “existent.”2 These are supposed to correspond to the three natures: the imagined (parikalpita, kun brtags), the dependent (paratantra, gzhan dbang), and the perfect (pariniṣpanna, yongs grub). As may be seen, the second term in the Pañcaśatikā Prajñāpāramitā, dngos po ngan pa, “a poorish kind of existence,” or “an inferior existence,” does not seem to fit well in this scheme. Yet these English terms are fully accurate translations of the Tibetan term. With the Sanskrit now available, we can see what happened. The three Sanskrit terms are: abhāva, “non-existent,” nâbhāva (na abhāva), “not non-existent,” and sad-bhāva, “truly existent.”3 These correspond well to the three natures taught in Yogācāra texts: the imagined, the dependent, and the perfect.

The Tibetan translator, perhaps to avoid the double negative that is in the Sanskrit, na abhāva, “not non-existent,” chose dngos po ngan pa to translate this second term, ostensibly “a poorish kind of existence,” or “an inferior existence.” The common meaning of ngan pa is indeed “poorish” or “inferior,” as Conze and Stearns translated it. However, here the Tibetan translator apparently intended one of the uncommon meanings of ngan pa, namely, asat, “not true,” thus yielding “not truly existent” in contrast with the third term, “truly existent.” This meaning of ngan pa as asat can be found in the Bodhisattvabhūmi (Nalinaksha Dutt edition, 1966, p. 98): asat-saṃkathā, ngan pa’i gtam, “untrue conversation.” Another example of this meaning can be found in the Jātakamālā (P. L. Vaidya edition, 1959, p. 159): asad-dṛṣṭiḥ, lta ba ngan pa, “false view.”4

With the help of the original Sanskrit, we can now see that these three terms in the Pañcaśatikā Prajñāpāramitā do in fact correspond well to the three natures taught in Yogācāra texts. Three other terms that apparently refer to the three natures taught in Yogācāra texts are used in another Prajñā-pāramitā text that Dolpopo regarded as being of definitive meaning (nītārtha), and that he characterized as one of the Buddha’s own auto-commentaries (rang ‘grel ) on the extensive Prajñā-pāramitā sūtras. The Maitreya Paripṛcchā or “Questions of Maitreya” chapter of the Prajñā-pāramitā sūtras in 25,000 and 18,000 lines, when describing the aggregates, etc., uses parikalpita, “imagined,” vikalpita, “conceptually differentiated,” and dharmatā, “true nature” (Tibetan kun brtags pa, rnam par brtags pa, and chos nyid ). These, too, correspond well to the three natures: the imagined, the dependent, and the perfect.

An extensive commentary on all three of the large Prajñā-pāramitā sūtras, those in 100,000 lines, 25,000 lines, and 18,000 lines, directly equates the three natures taught in Yogācāra texts with the three terms found in the “Questions of Maitreya” chapter, and uses these terms throughout in its explanations.5 Dolpopa drew heavily upon this commentary, called in short the Bṛhat-ṭīkā, “Large Commentary,” and known in Tibet as the Yum gsum gnod ‘joms, “Destruction of Objections to the Three Mother Sūtras.”6 Most of Tibetan tradition, including Bu-ston who edited the Tengyur, regarded it as being written by the early Indian teacher Vasubandhu, famous for his Yogācāra treatises. Tsongkhapa, however, held that it was written by the much later writer Daṃṣṭrāsena, because it included some late references. It is of course possible that Daṃṣṭrāsena merely added some things to the earlier text by Vasubandhu. In any case, the method of understanding the Prajñā-pāramitā sūtras by way of the three natures taught in Yogācāra texts goes back at least to Dignāga, who is traditionally regarded as a direct disciple of Vasubandhu. Dignāga wrote in his Prajñāpāramitā-piṇḍārtha, verses 27-29:7


prajñā-pāramitāyāṃ hi trīn samāśritya deśanā |
kalpitaṃ paratantraṃ ca pariniṣpannam eva ca || 27 ||

The teaching in the Perfection of Wisdom is based on three:
the imagined, the dependent, and the perfect.

nâstîty-ādi-padaiḥ sarvaṃ kalpitaṃ vinivāryate |
māyôpamâdi-dṛṣṭāntaiḥ paratantrasya deśanā || 28 ||

By the words, “does not exist,” etc., all the imagined is refuted.
By the examples, like an illusion, etc., the teaching of the dependent [is given].

caturdhā vyavadānena pariniṣpanna-kīrtanam |
prajñāpāramitāyāṃ hi nânyā buddhasya deśanā || 29 ||

By the fourfold purification, the perfect is taught.
For in the Perfection of Wisdom there is no other teaching of the Buddha.


Dolpopa, then, was not innovating when he advocated understanding the Prajñā-pāramitā sūtras by way of the three natures taught in Yogācāra texts. He was merely following a much older Indian tradition. This led him to find correspondences to these three natures in the Prajñā-pāramitā sūtras themselves, such as the Pañcaśatikā Prajñāpāramitā. He quoted the whole opening section of this sūtra at the beginning of his concise text, Ngo sprod khyad ‘phags, “Exceptional Introduction.”8 He then equated its three terms with the three natures taught in Yogācāra texts. He said the same thing, again equating its three terms with the three natures, in his Autocommentary to the “Fourth Council”.9 Thus, the Pañcaśatikā Prajñāpāramitā with its three terms corresponding to the three natures was regarded by Dolpopa as a text of considerable importance for understanding the Prajñā-pāramitā sūtras.




  1. Pañcaśatikā Prajñāpāramitā: Sanskrit and Tibetan Texts, critically edited by Li Xuezhu and Fujita Yoshimichi. Beijing: China Tibetology Publishing House, and Vienna: Austrian Academy of Sciences Press, 2016.
  2. “The Perfection of Wisdom in 500 Lines,” in The Short Prajñāpāramitā Texts, translated by Edward Conze (London: Luzac & Company, 1973), p. 108. Relevant sentence quoted by Cyrus Stearns in The Buddha from Dölpo: A Study of the Life and Thought of the Tibetan Master Dölpopa Sherab Gyaltsen (Ithaca, N.Y.: Snow Lion Publications, 2010), p. 101, with reference to Dolpopa’s comment on it in his Autocommentary to the “Fourth Council”, p. 233. In the 1999 first edition this quotation is on pp. 96-97, and the three terms are translated as: “a nonexistent entity, a base entity, and an existent entity.”
  3. These three terms first describe the neuter word rūpam, “form” (p. 1), so according to their masculine gender they would be nouns rather than adjectives; e.g., “non-existence” rather than “non-existent.” However, to call form “non-existence” does not make sense to me. So bhāva is probably used here as the noun, “an existent” (an existing thing). The sentence, then, would say: “form is a non-existent, not a non-existent, and a truly existent.” This is rather awkward English. I think the same idea is conveyed by translating these terms as if they were adjectives: “form is non-existent, not non-existent, and truly existent.” This is what I have done, even though it is not a literally accurate translation.
  4. These examples are found in J. S. Negi, Tibetan-Sanskrit Dictionary, Sarnath, Varanasi: Central Institute of Higher Tibetan Studies, vol. 3, 1995. I have only added the English translations.
  5. Ārya-śata-sāhasrikā-pañcaviṃśati-sāhasrikâṣṭādaśa-sāhasrikā-prajñāpāramitā-bṛhaṭ-ṭīkā.
  6. For the English translation of this title, I follow Stearns, 2010 (see note 2 above), p. 97.
  7. The original Sanskrit was first edited by Giuseppe Tucci and published in the Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society in 1947, which I have scanned and posted here: http://www.downloads.prajnaquest.fr/BookofDzyan/Sanskrit%20Buddhist%20Texts/prajnaparamita_pindartha_1947.pdf. It was published again in 1959 by Erich Frauwallner in the Wiener Zeitschrift für die Kunde Süd- und Ostasiens in 1959, which I have scanned and posted here: http://www.downloads.prajnaquest.fr/BookofDzyan/Sanskrit%20Buddhist%20Texts/prajnaparamita_pindartha_1959.pdf. Although Tucci also included an English translation, I have here re-translated these verses more literally.
  8. The Ngo sprod khyad ‘phags is found in volume 12 of the 13-volume modern typeset edition of the collected writings of Dolpopa, pp. 40-52 (jo nang kun mkhyen dol po pa shes rab rgyal mtshan gyi gsung ‘bum, [Beijing:] krung go’i bod rig pa dpe skrun khang, 2011). For the English translation of this title, “Exceptional Introduction,” I follow Stearns, 2010 (see note 2 above), p. 422. Matthew Kapstein describes it as: “An ‘introduction’ (ngo-sprod ) to the ultimate and definitive significance (nges-don mthar-thug) of the doctrine.” (The ‘Dzam-thang Edition of the Collected Works of Kun-mkhyen Dol-po-pa Shes-rab Rgyal-mtshan: Introduction and Catalogue, p. 66. Delhi: Shedrup Books, 1992). The opening section of this sūtra that Dolpopa quoted (pp. 40-43) corresponds to the Sanskrit edition (see note 1 above), sections 1 and 2, pp. 1-4.
  9. Translated by Stearns, 2010 (see note 2 above), p. 233, and quoted by him on p. 101. In the 1999 first edition this is quoted on p. 96.

Category: Uncategorized | 1 comment


Kālacakra-mūla-tantra Section Rediscovered

By David Reigle on July 9, 2017 at 9:43 pm

A large section of the otherwise lost Kālacakra-mūla-tantra has now been rediscovered. It is approximately three times as large as the only other section known, the Sekoddeśa. It is the Para-guru-guṇa-dhara section, the section on “the good qualities possessed by the best guru.” This text is itself called a tantra in the one manuscript we now have, the Para-guru-guṇa-dhara-nāma-tantra, since the tantra it comes from is not extant. Perhaps this title is the reason why it does not yet seem to have been noticed as a section of the Kālacakra-mūla-tantra, although it became available in 2014. It had been out of circulation for centuries. What led me to it was a quoted verse that for long I could not trace.

An intriguing verse from the Kālacakra-mūla-tantra was quoted by the 16th-century Kagyu writer Dakpo Tashi Namgyal (dwags po bkra shis rnam rgyal) in his well-known text on meditation, Phyag chen zla bai od zer, “Mahāmudrā, the Moonlight,” or “Moonbeams of Mahāmudrā.” This text was translated into English by Lobsang P. Lhalugpa and published in 1986 as Mahāmudrā: The Quintessence of Mind and Meditation, by Takpo Tashi Namgyal (second edition published in 2006 as Mahāmudrā, The Moonlight: Quintessence of Mind and Meditation, by Dakpo Tashi Namgyal). The verse is there introduced as “The Kālacakra-mūlatantra states:” and is translated as follows (p. 181; 2nd ed. p. 183):


The innate mind of sentient beings is luminous clarity;

From the beginning it is detached

From the absolute attributes of arising, ceasing, and settling.

Since beginningless time it has been the primordial supreme Buddha,

Because it has been unmodulated by cause and condition.


The “innate mind” is equated with “luminous clarity” (which obviously translates the Tibetan od gsal, Sanskrit prabhāsvara) and with the “primordial supreme Buddha” (which is obviously the ādi-buddha or paramādi-buddha). What is the Tibetan or Sanskrit term for this “innate mind” that is also luminosity (or the clear light) and the ādi-buddha, I wondered. Is it also in the extant shorter (laghu) Kālacakra-tantra or its Vimala-prabhā commentary? The Tibetan text of this verse could be found in the 1978 publication, Ṅes don phyag rgya chen po’i sgom rim gsal bar byed pa’i legs bśad zla ba’i ‘od zer, or in short, Phyag chen zla ba’i ‘od zer, by Dwags-po Pan-chen Bkra-śis-rnam-rgyal, “reproduced from rare prints from the Dwags-lha Sgam-po blocks” (published at Bir, H.P., by D. Tsondu Senghe), folio side 169, lines 2-3:


dus ‘khor rtsa rgyud las |

sems can sems nyid ‘od gsal zhing |

gdod nas skye ‘gag gnas bral te |

thog ma med pa’i sngon rol nas |

dang po mchog gi sangs rgyas te |

rgyu med rkyen gyis ma bslad pa |


Having the Tibetan text of this verse meant that it was possible to try to locate its source. So I checked the only known section of the Kālacakra-mūla-tantra, the Sekoddeśa, which consists of 174 verses, all of the Kālacakra-mūla-tantra quotations found in the Vimala-prabhā commentary, and in the other two texts of the so-called bodhisattva-piṭaka written by the bodhisattva kings of Sambhala, the Laghu-tantra-ṭīkā and the Hevajra-piṇḍārtha-ṭīkā, and also in Nāropā’s Sekoddeśa-ṭīkā. I then asked the late Edward Henning to check the large database of Tibetan Kālacakra texts that he had assembled. I even checked the extant (laghu) Kālacakra-tantra for good measure, even though the meter is quite different. No results in any of these sources. Yet I knew that Dakpo Tashi Namgyal would not just make up this verse. It had to exist somewhere.

In recent years the former Tibetan Buddhist Resource Center, now the Buddhist Digital Resource Center, has been assembling a very large database of electronically searchable Tibetan texts, including the entire Kangyur and Tengyur. A contact regarding the ādi-buddha at the 2017 Translation and Transmission Conference reminded me of my old search, so after I returned home I searched the BDRC database for this verse. It was nowhere found in the Kangyur or Tengyur, but it appeared in the collected writings (gsung bum) of Gampopa (sgam po pa, 1079-1153), founding father of the Kagyu school of Tibetan Buddhism. It was quoted twice by Gampopa in his Bstan bcos lung gi nyi od, “Sunshine of Treatises and Scriptures,” first as from the Kālacakra-mūla-tantra (dus ‘khor rtsa rgyud du), and then (with two additional preceding lines) as from the Bla ma‘i yon tan yongs su bzung ba’i rgyud. With this latter title, the text could be traced.

The Bla ma‘i yon tan yongs su bzung ba’i rgyud is found in the collection of Kālacakra texts called Dus ‘khor phyogs bsgrigs chen mo, volume 4, pages 583-639. This set was published in Lhasa in 2012, although it did not become available until 2014. The first seven volumes of this set consist of Tibetan translations of Sanskrit texts, being either different translations than the ones found in the Kangyur and Tengyur, or in a few cases (such as this one) different texts that are not found there. Most of these texts (including this one) had been gathered from other monasteries and sealed away in the Nechu temple at Drepung Monastery around the 1650s under the direction of the Fifth Dalai Lama. They remained sealed away there until very recently (see the “Drepung catalogue,” 2 vols., 2004, where the Bla ma‘i yon tan yongs su bzung ba’i rgyud is no. 944, vol. 1, p. 105).

The opening page of the Bla ma‘i yon tan yongs su bzung ba’i rgyud gives the original Sanskrit title, which as slightly corrected by me is Para-guru-guṇa-dhara-nāma-tantra. This is followed by a Tibetan title, differing somewhat from the one found on the title page, that more closely matches the Sanskrit title: Gtso bo[r] bla ma’i yon tan bzung pa zhes bya ba’i rgyud. Still nothing tells us that this text is from the Kālacakra-mūla-tantra. Although this volume had been on my shelf since 2015, I had never checked the colophon.

The colophon on the last page (folio side 639, lines 3-4) tells us that this text, there titled Gtso bor bla ma’i yon tan bzung pa, was extracted from the Kālacakra-mūla-tantra (whose proper name is the Paramādi-buddha): dpal dang po mchog gi sangs rgyas rtsa ba’i rgyud chen po nas ‘byung pa. It also tells us that this text is a separate section of the tantra: bkol ba dum bu’i rgyud. The verse quoted from it first by Gampopa when this text was still available in Tibet, and then probably quoted from him by Dakpo Tashi Namgyal four centuries later when this text was no longer available there, is found near the beginning on folio sides 584-585. At last the verse quoted from the Kālacakra-mūla-tantra that I had long ago seen in Lobsang Lhalungpa’s translation of Dakpo Tashi Namgyal’s text had been traced to its source. The source turned out to be a long lost section of the Kālacakra-mūla-tantra, and it has recently become available again.


Category: Kalacakra, Kālacakratantra | 4 comments


Mahatma Letters Problems in Transmission

By David Reigle on June 30, 2017 at 11:15 pm

As explained by Blavatsky, the vast majority of the Mahatma letters were written by chelas who functioned as amanuenses for the Mahatma author.1 This ranged from taking direct dictation from the Mahatma (usually telepathically), to clothing the ideas given by the Mahatma in the words of the chela, to the chelas themselves providing the ideas when given only a general directive. Naturally, this led to problems when the chela amanuensis was unfamiliar with the subject matter, such as when a Hindu chela had to write on a Buddhist subject.

An example of this may be seen in Mahatma letter #9, chronological #18, which was discussed here in the post, “A Mahatma Letters Puzzle” (March 31, 2017). In that Mahatma letter we read (3rd edition, p. 47): “Matter found entirely divorced from spirit is thrown over into the still lower worlds—into the sixth ‘Gati’ or ‘way of rebirth’ of the vegetable and mineral worlds, and of the primitive animal forms.” In The New American Cyclopaedia entry on which this was based we read (p. 66): “In some cases the soul of man may sink even below the 6 Gatis or ways of rebirth into the vegetable and mineral way; . . .” The English of this latter sentence, taken by itself, is somewhat ambiguous. It is possible to take “rebirth into the vegetable and mineral way” as a unit. This is apparently how the chela amanuensis of the Mahatma letter took it, so that he or she could speak of the “‘way of rebirth’ of the vegetable and mineral worlds.” However, this is not what the New American Cyclopaedia writer meant, nor is what Buddhism teaches.

As written earlier in this article by the New American Cyclopaedia writer (p. 65), Buddhism teaches these six gatis or ways of rebirth, those of: 1. the devas or gods; 2. men; 3. the asuras or bad genii; 4. animals; 5. pretas or monsters of hunger and thirst; 6. the denizens of hell. There is no “‘way of rebirth’ of the vegetable and mineral worlds” as the chela amanuensis understood it. The sentence by the New American Cyclopaedia writer should have been understood as “In some cases the soul of man may sink even below the 6 Gatis or ways of rebirth [pause] into the vegetable and mineral way; . . .” This is an example of a problem in transmission apparently caused by a chela amanuensis who was not familiar with the Buddhist teachings. The Theosophical teachings may well hold that “Matter found entirely divorced from spirit is thrown over into the still lower worlds,” but this is not “into the sixth ‘Gati’ or ‘way of rebirth’ of the vegetable and mineral worlds, and of the primitive animal forms.” The latter is not one of the six gatis or ways of rebirth taught in Buddhism.

At the conclusion of the post, “Some Mahatma Letters Sources” (April 30, 2017), I had written: “The Buddhist terms and quotations found in the Mahatma letters are therefore often inaccurate on two counts: They are quotations from early and often unreliable translations; they are often altered to bring in esoteric teachings that are not stated in the Buddhist texts themselves.” To this we can add a third cause of inaccuracy: problems in transmission by chela amanuenses who are not familiar with the subject being discussed, and who therefore sometimes misunderstand the available sources that they are drawing upon.


  1. See Blavatsky’s letter and other related materials assembled in this file: Mahatma Letters, on writing of, HPB, etc.

Category: Mahatma Letters | No comments yet


Theosophical Glossary Sources

By David Reigle on May 31, 2017 at 1:55 pm

The Theosophical Glossary by H. P. Blavatsky, published in 1892, draws its definitions from many sources. Comparatively little of it was written by Blavatsky herself. Boris de Zirkoff laboriously located the source references for a large number of its entries, and he hand-wrote these in his copy of this book. These source annotations are of great value for students of Theosophy. They show what was merely copied from then existing sources, as opposed to Blavatsky’s own definitions. His annotated copy thus nicely complements the listings of Secret Doctrine References that were made available on the website of the Theosophical Society, Pasadena, or Theosophical University Press, and the extensive supplement to these prepared by William (Bill) Savage (see blog posts of Jan. 24, 2016, and June 30, 2016).

We are very fortunate that this labor of Boris de Zirkoff did not die with him. He left his books to the Theosophical Society in America, and his annotated copy of The Theosophical Glossary is now in its Archives. Janet Kerschner and Michael Conlin spent a lot of time and effort in making a scan of this book, which they have kindly made publicly available here:


They received much assistance from Richard Robb in identifying the bibliographic sources referred to. Boris in his annotations had used brief abbreviations and brief titles that were known to him, but were not spelled out in full. A detailed listing of these, along with much other helpful information, is found at the Theosophy Wiki entry on The Theosophical Glossary, here:


To me, it is a very great boon to have access to the knowledge of where any particular entry in Blavatsky’s Theosophical Glossary came from. This allows us to evaluate its accuracy. I am extremely grateful to Boris de Zirkoff for tracing these sources, and to all involved in making this information publicly available.

Category: Uncategorized | 2 comments


Some Mahatma Letters Sources

By David Reigle on April 30, 2017 at 11:59 pm

The previous post, “A Mahatma Letters Puzzle,” ended with the statement: “The Buddhist terms and quotations found in the Mahatma letters almost always come from then existing books, and therefore cannot be relied upon for accuracy.” This statement should be substantiated by more than just the one example given in that post (nirira namastaka = nirvva namastaka = nirvvānamastaka = nirvāṇa-mastaka, a ghost word). For this purpose we may look at the long and doctrinally important Mahatma letter #16, chronological #68, called the “devachan letter” because it is the primary source for the Theosophical teachings on the after-death states including devachan (Tibetan, bde ba can).

Before the days of digital books and electronic searches, Doss McDavid noticed many parallels between the devachan letter and passages in an 1871 book by Samuel Beal, A Catena of Buddhist Scriptures from the Chinese. He found that the quotations of Buddhist scriptures given in this letter come from this book. There would be no reason for the Mahatma to translate these passages himself. These letters were personal correspondence, not scholastic treatises, and were often written in haste. The Mahatma simply drew upon what was already available in order to help make his point.

From Mahatma letter #16, chronological #68, 2nd ed. pp. 99-100, 3rd ed. pp. 97-98, chronological ed. pp. 189-190:

(1) The Deva-Chan, or land of “Sukhavati,” is allegorically described by our Lord Buddha himself. What he said may be found in the Shan-Mun-yi-Tung. Says Tathâgata:—
“Many thousand myriads of systems of worlds beyond this (ours) there is a region of Bliss called Sukhavati. . . . This region is encircled with seven rows of railings, seven rows of vast curtains, seven rows of waving trees; this holy abode of Arahats is governed by the Tathâgatas (Dhyan Chohans) and is possessed by the Bodhisatwas. It hath seven precious lakes, in the midst of which flow crystaline waters having ‘seven and one’ properties, or distinctive qualities (the 7 principles emanating from the ONE). This, O, Sariputra is the ‘Deva Chan.’ Its divine Udambara flower casts a root in the shadow of every earth, and blossoms for all those who reach it. Those born in the blessed region are truly felicitous, there are no more griefs or sorrows in that cycle for them. . . . Myriads of Spirits (Lha) resort there for rest and then return to their own regions.1 Again, O, Sariputra, in that land of joy many who are born in it are Avaivartyas . . .”2 etc., etc.


1. Those who have not ended their earth rings.
2. Literally—those who will never return—the seventh round men, etc.

From Beal’s Catena, pp. 378-379:

[Translated from the Chinese version of Kumârajîva, as it is found in the Shan-mun-yih-tung.] At this time Buddha addressed the venerable Sariputra as follows:—

“In the western regions more than one hundred thousand myriads of systems of worlds beyond this, there is a Sakwala named Sukhavatî. Why is this region so named? Because all those born in it have no griefs or sorrows: they experience only unmixed joys; therefore it is named the infinitely happy land. Again, Sariputra, this happy region is surrounded by seven rows of ornamental railings, seven rows of exquisite curtains, seven rows of waving trees—hence, again, it is called the infinitely happy region. Again, Sariputra, this happy land possesses seven gemmous lakes, in the midst of which flow waters possessed of the eight distinctive qualities . . . .

“Again, Sâriputra, the land of that Buddha ever shares in heavenly delights (or music), the ground is resplendent gold, at morning and evening showers of the Divine Udambara flower descend upon all those born there, at early dawn the most exquisite blossoms burst out at their side: thousand myriads of Buddhas instantly resort here for refreshment, and then return to their own regions, and for this reason, Sâriputra, that land is called most happy. . . .

“Again, Sâriputra, in that land of perfect joy all who are born, are born as Avaivartyas (never to return), . . .”

We notice that, or order to make his point, the Mahatma emphasized certain parts of this quotation by underlining (italics in the printed version), such as the word seven. But he also changed the quotation in order to make his point, changing Beal’s “eight distinctive qualities” to “‘seven and one’ properties, or distinctive qualities (the 7 principles emanating from the ONE).” Beal’s “at morning and evening showers of the Divine Udambara flower descend upon all those born there” became “Its divine Udambara flower casts a root in the shadow of every earth, and blossoms for all those who reach it.” Beal’s “all those born in it have no griefs or sorrows” was moved down and became “there are no more griefs or sorrows in that cycle for them.” Beal’s “thousand myriads of Buddhas instantly resort here for refreshment, and then return to their own regions” became “Myriads of Spirits (Lha) resort there for rest and then return to their own regions.1,” with the footnote “1. Those who have not ended their earth rings.” Beal’s “Again, Sâriputra, in that land of perfect joy all who are born, are born as Avaivartyas (never to return),” became “Again, O, Sariputra, in that land of joy many who are born in it are Avaivartyas . . .2,” with the footnote “2. Literally—those who will never return—the seventh round men, etc.”

As may be seen, all of these changes made by the Mahatma in the quotation brought in teachings about devachan that the Mahatma was giving to his correspondent, A. P. Sinnett. It may be thought that these changes made by the Mahatma are simply more accurate translations of the Buddhist text. They are not. They are less accurate translations, but bring in esoteric interpretations of the Buddhist text. We learn what the Shan-mun-yih-tung is from Samuel Beal’s article, “Translation of the Amitâbha Sûtra from Chinese” (Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society, 1866, pp. 136-144). Beal begins his translation by saying: “The Amitâbha Sûtra. Extracted from the work called ‘Shan Mun Yih Tung,’ or Daily Prayers of the Contemplative School of Priests” (p. 140). He had a few pages earlier introduced it as follows: “The following translation of the Amitâbha Sûtra is made from the Chinese edition of that work, prepared by Kumârajîva, and bound up in a volume known as the ‘Daily Prayers of the Buddhist Priests belonging to the Contemplative School’ (Shan-mun)” (p. 136). So what we have from Beal in his 1871 Catena of Buddhist Scriptures from the Chinese is actually a translation of the Amitābha Sūtra. As is well known, the Amitābha Sūtra is a popular name for the shorter Sukhāvatī-vyūha Sūtra.

The original Sanskrit text of the shorter Sukhāvatī-vyūha Sūtra was recovered and first published by F. Max Müller in his article, “On Sanskrit Texts Discovered in Japan” (Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society, 1880, pp. 153-188). It was reprinted along with the larger Sukhāvatī-vyūha Sūtra in the book, Sukhāvatī-vyūha: Description of Sukhāvatī, the Land of Bliss, edited by F. Max Müller and Bunyiu Nanjio (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1883). So we can compare the original Sanskrit. The Sanskrit word for the first change, “eight” to “seven and one,” is aṣṭa, “eight.” The Sanskrit word for the second change, “showers” to “shadow,” is pravarṣati, “showers.” Further, the Sanskrit does not have “Udambara flower” here, but rather has “māndārava flower.” The third change, the addition of “in that cycle,” is not in the Sanskrit. The fourth and fifth changes are a little more complex. Beal’s translation from the Chinese does not quite match the Sanskrit, but neither do the changes introduced by the Mahatma. Of course, the added footnotes by the Mahatma bring in esoteric teachings, not found in the exoteric text.

For those who wish to pursue this in English translations, both the shorter and the longer Sukhāvatī-vyūha Sūtras were first translated from the original Sanskrit by F. Max Müller in Buddhist Mahâyâna Texts, Part II (Oxford, Clarendon Press, 1894), = Sacred Books of the East, vol. 49. This was a pioneering translation, when the meaning of a number of Sanskrit Buddhist terms was not yet established. Both the shorter and the longer Sukhāvatī-vyūha Sūtras were again translated from the original Sanskrit by Luis O. Gómez, and published in Land of Bliss: The Paradise of the Buddha of Measureless Light (Honolulu: University of Hawai‘i Press, 1996). This book also includes separate translations of these two texts from the Chinese translations. The shorter Sukhāvatī-vyūha Sūtra was translated from the Tibetan translation by Georgios T. Halkias, and published in Luminous Bliss: A Religious History of Pure Land Literature in Tibet (Honolulu: University of Hawai‘i Press, 2013).

References to the rest of the quotations from Buddhist texts in Mahatma letter #16, chronological #68, the “devachan letter,” in Beal’s Catena of Buddhist Scriptures from the Chinese, are, in sequence: pp. 117, 86, 85, 90, 120, 64. Perhaps more about these and others can be posted later.

In summary, the Mahatma letters teach esoteric Buddhism. Being letters, they used then available translations of Buddhist texts for their quotations. They often altered these quotations to show the esoteric teachings. The Buddhist terms and quotations found in the Mahatma letters are therefore often inaccurate on two counts: They are quotations from early and often unreliable translations; they are often altered to bring in esoteric teachings that are not stated in the Buddhist texts themselves.

Category: Mahatma Letters | 1 comment


A Mahatma Letters Puzzle

By David Reigle on March 31, 2017 at 11:05 pm

The term “Nirira namastaka” is found in all editions of The Mahatma Letters to A. P. Sinnett (1st, 2nd, and 3rd editions, p. 44, letter #9; chronological edition, p. 62, letter #18). The context may be seen in the following quotation (quoted from the 3rd edition):

“When our great Buddha—the patron of all the adepts, the reformer and the codifier of the occult system, reached first Nirvana on earth, he became a Planetary Spirit; i.e.—his spirit could at one and the same time rove the interstellar spaces in full consciousness, and continue at will on Earth in his original and individual body. For the divine Self had so completely disfranchised itself from matter that it could create at will an inner substitute for itself, and leaving it in the human form for days, weeks, sometimes years, affect in no wise by the change either the vital principle or the physical mind of its body. By the way, that is the highest form of adeptship man can hope for on our planet. But it is as rare as the Buddhas themselves, the last Khobilgan who reached it being Tsong-ka-pa of Kokonor (XIV Century), the reformer of esoteric as well as of vulgar Lamaism. Many are those who ‘break through the egg-shell,’ few who, once out, are able to exercise their Nirira namastaka fully, when completely out of the body. Conscious life in Spirit is as difficult for some natures as swimming is for some bodies.”

It appears to be an important technical term, pertaining to advanced Buddhist metaphysics. However, no such term could be identified in the 93 years since the Mahatma letters were published, even with the availability in recent decades of large numbers of primary Buddhist texts. Since photographic images of the Mahatma letters have become available, it has become possible to see if there is another way to read this term in the handwriting of the letter (http://theosophy.wiki/ML/18-12_6117.jpg). Daniel Caldwell did this last year (April, 2016), and saw that it could be read as “Nirvva namastaka.” If we now break the word differently, we find the familiar Buddhist term, “nirvvana”; i.e., “nirvana” (nirvāṇa). Daniel could then search the internet for “nirvvanamastaka.” Sure enough, as Daniel informed me, it turned up in the entry on “Buddhism and Buddha” in The New American Cyclopaedia, vol. 4, 1869 and 1870, p. 66.

Just as the similarly long unidentified phrase “Kam mi ts’har” found in the Mahatma letters was copied directly from a book existing at that time, as shown by Antonios Goyios (http://www.blavatskyarchives.com/kammitshar/kammitshar.htm), so with this term. It is even found hyphenated at the end of a line in The New American Cyclopaedia at exactly where it was wrongly broken in the Mahatma letter: Nirvvā-namastaka. There can be no doubt that this is the source from which it was taken by the Mahatma or his chela amanuensis. As Daniel pointed out, the Mahatma letter also has: “Many are those who ‘break through the egg-shell,’ few who, once out, are able to exercise their Nirira namastaka fully, when completely out of the body.” The New American Cyclopaedia has (p. 66): “He who breaks its fetters, ‘breaks through the eggshell’ and escapes the alternation of births.” Later on in this Mahatma letter we also read: “Matter found entirely divorced from spirit is thrown over into the still lower worlds—into the sixth ‘Gati’ or ‘way of rebirth’ of the vegetable and mineral worlds, and of the primitive animal forms.” (3rd edition, p. 47; the 1st and 2nd editions wrongly have ‘Gate’ for ‘Gati’). The New American Cyclopaedia has (p. 66): “In some cases the soul of man may sink even below the 6 Gatis or ways of rebirth into the vegetable and mineral way; . . .” Of course, the Mahatma letter used this term and these phrases somewhat differently, but clearly adopted them from this source.

About nirvvānamastaka, i.e., nirvāṇa-mastaka, The New American Cyclopaedia has (p. 66):

“The final goal of Buddhistic salvation is the uprooting of sin, by exhausting existence, by impeding its continuance; in short, by passing out of the Sansāra into the Nirvāna. The signification of the latter term is a prolific subject of discussion and speculation with the different philosophic schools and religious sects of Buddhistic Asia. Its interpreters prefer vague definitions, from fear of offending sectarians. It means the highest enfranchisement; to theists, the absorption of individual life in God; to atheists in naught. The Thibetans translate it by Mya-ngan-los-hdah-ba, the condition of one freed from pain; eternal salvation, or freedom from transmigration. Its etyma are: nir, not; van, to blow, and arrow; its orthography is Nirvvāna; its collaterals are: Nirvvānamastaka, liberation ; nirvvāpa, putting out, as a fire, &c. It is Nibbāna in Pali, Niban in Burmese, Niruphan in Siamese, Ni-pan in Chinese.”

So is nirvāṇa-mastaka, then, an important technical term pertaining to advanced Buddhist metaphysics? No. It is a ghost word, a word that appeared in a dictionary and was copied in other dictionaries, but has not been found in use in Sanskrit texts. According to my research, it first appeared in the 1832 second edition of Horace Hayman Wilson’s Sanskrit-English dictionary (A Dictionary in Sanscrit and English, Calcutta). It is there written nirvvāṇamastaka, and defined as “liberation,” with the etymology nirvvāṇa and mastaka, “head, chief” (p. 477). It was obviously copied from there by the unnamed writer of the “Buddhism and Buddha” entry in The New American Cyclopaedia. It is not found in the 1819 first edition of Wilson’s Sanskrit-English dictionary, nor is it found in the 1900 revised edition of Wilson’s dictionary. We may guess that one of Wilson’s assistants may have found it in some Sanskrit kośa, lexicons that often list words that are not found in use, and put it in the second edition of his dictionary. From there it was copied (but without doubling the “v”) in the relevant 1865 volume 4 of the massive 7-volume Petersburg Sanskrit-German dictionary (Sanskrit-Wörterbuch, by Otto Böhtlingk and Rudolph Roth, St. Petersburg), where it is followed by “!” and specifically stated as coming from Wilson (p. 209). It was retained in the relevant 1882 volume 3 of the shorter 7-volume Petersburg dictionary (Sanskrit-Wörterbuch in Kürzerer Fassung), keeping the “(!)” after it (p. 219). It was likewise copied in Monier Monier-Williams’ Sanskrit-English Dictionary, both his 1872 first edition and his 1899 enlarged edition, where it is also specifically stated as coming from Wilson. It is also found in Vaman Shivram Apte’s Sanskrit-English dictionary, but no source is given. This typically means that Apte did not find it in any Sanskrit text, but copied it from previous dictionaries. It is even found in the Vācaspatyam Sanskrit-Sanskrit dictionary, where it is defined like a compound of such type would have to be construed: nirvāṇam nirvṛtir mastakam iva yatra, i.e., as nirvāṇa that is like the head. It is not, however, found in the earlier Śabda-kalpa-druma Sanskrit-Sanskrit dictionary. Nor is it found in Franklin Edgerton’s Buddhist Hybrid Sanskrit Dictionary. My electronic searches of massive quantities of Sanskrit texts, now possible, have failed to yield a single occurrence of this term. I even posted a query for a “textual source for nirvāṇa-mastaka” to the Indology e-list on Jan 13, 2017, consisting of several hundred Indologists working today. No one was able to come up with a textual source for this term.

The Mahatma letter is describing a form of adeptship that is not described in any Buddhist text known to me; yet in doing this the Mahatma or his chela amanuensis used a ghost word copied from an 1869 book that was in turn copied from an 1832 dictionary. We have seen other cases of this type of copying from then existing books in the Mahatma letters, as found by Antonios Goyios in the article linked above (“Tracing the Source of Tibetan Phrases Found in Mahatma Letters #54 and #92”), and there are still others that could be cited. The relevance of this to students of Theosophy is that, due to the methods used by the Mahatmas in writing their letters, terms such as this found in the Mahatma letters may not be actual Buddhist technical terms that can be found in the Sanskrit texts. As we know from a number of statements made by the Mahatmas in their letters, their method of writing was to surround themselves with material on the topic at hand that is impressed upon the ākāśa, and to draw from it what they needed. They were not native English speakers. Their letters constitute personal correspondence, often written in haste, not articles written for publication. The Buddhist terms and quotations found in the Mahatma letters almost always come from then existing books, and therefore cannot be relied upon for accuracy.

Category: Mahatma Letters | 6 comments


de la Loubère on Tévetat

By Jacques Mahnich on March 1, 2017 at 3:33 pm

Here is short translation of the first pages which confirms the identity of Sommona-Codom (Buddha Shakyamuni) and Tévetat (Devadatta).